‘Come From Away’ is a must-see at PPAC

By Kimberly Rau

Anyone old enough to remember the September 11 terrorist attacks remembers where they were the
moment they learned what had happened. Everyone has a story. And when the United States closed its
airspace on that Tuesday, some 200 planes in the air had to land elsewhere. Seven thousand
international passengers found themselves grounded in Gander, a small New Foundland town,
population 9,000. No one knew how long they’d be there, and no one on the planes knew exactly what
had happened yet.

Come From Away is a musical about some of those (true) stories, focusing on the lives of real people
who lived in town as well as those who found themselves stuck there, desperate for answers. Over the
course of an hour and a half, 18 actors with little more than 12 chairs for a set manage to capture the
harrowing emotions of the days that followed the attacks. While the weight of the tragedy is ever-
present, the story focuses instead on what happened inside the town, the effects of which lingered for
years afterward.

Truly an ensemble piece, the show hinges on the cast being adaptable and extremely talented. The
score is haunting and best numbers are the ones that rely on the entire group coming together, though
the song Me and the Sky, as sung by Markia Aubrey playing Beverly, the first female captain for
American Airlines, is a particularly notable solo piece. The show is emotional, but doesn’t get
melodramatic, a fine line to walk with the subject matter at hand. It also doesn’t attempt to paint a
pretty picture at all times: Yes, plenty of people were welcoming, yes, many passengers made the best
of a bad situation, but there was also heartache, sadness and plenty of people acting out of fear and
anxiety. Nick Duckart plays Ali, a professional from Egypt who serves as a mirror for the irrational racism
that many Middle Eastern people faced following the attacks. His shame after being subjected to a strip
search with a woman present lingers over the audience even after he gets an apology. “I’m Muslim, and
I’m from Connecticut!” another woman protests. “She doesn’t look American,” a man snarls.

On the other hand, one of the most beautiful scenes in the show occurs when the school library is
opened for anyone looking to have a quiet place to pray. As a Catholic hymn continues, a Jewish man
begins singing a prayer. A Muslim man lays down a prayer rug. Two women kneel and begin praying in a
foreign language. The harmony in the score and between the people is haunting.
Not everyone gets their own happy ending, but the show ends on a high note, focusing on the
community that was so far-removed from the tragedy but still rose to the occasion to provide a friendly,
safe resting place to thousands of scared, displaced people. (Gander is the only place outside of the
United States that has a piece of the steel from the World Trade Center, a donation that acknowledged
their efforts.)

The term “must see” is frequently over-used in the reviewing world (and I include myself in that
criticism), but this is one time where it really is accurate. This is one that you don’t want to miss. If you
can get tickets, do so.

Come From Away runs through Sunday, Dec. 8 at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset
St., Providence. Tickets are available at the box office, online at ppacri.org or by calling 401-421-2820.