Coming from Away: “Come from Away” by David Hein and Irene Sankoff

Is it right to include an assessment of the theatre’s bathroom in the review? I must, even if not: the bathrooms sucked. Get better bathrooms, Phoenix Theatre. I had to hold the stall door closed with one hand while wiping with the other. And the toilet seat was ripped from the toilet and tossed on the floor.

And everything was wet.

 

 

I sat in the Stalls for Come from Away, which means “Orchestra,” which must mean something more, in the grand scheme of things, right? How can your seat not impact your viewing experience? On the stage were: several tree trunks with lights affixed to them, two desks, 12 chairs placed at jaunty angles, and a wooden backdrop. The pit orchestra was also visible — with some neck straining — which would prove to be important later.

 

The audience clapped when the lights went down, which told us beyond doubt into which of the Commercial-State-Independent categories this experience would fall. The first words were sung with heavy Newfoundland accents, which I mistook for mere difficult British accents at the outset. These accents would change drastically and often throughout the show, with mixed success in terms of both audience comprehension and performer accuracy. The opening song, “Welcome to the Rock,” was sung directly to the audience, immersing everyone immediately in the world of the play and of the ensemble onstage. There was a lot of jumping up and down and synchronous movement, with all cast members landing on the final musical hit of the number. This would be one of the three numbers which distinguished themselves as “songs” throughout the evening.

 

In the first book scene, every character’s name is said (with intentional comedy) roughly five times. We get to know their names, as a result. A first-day-on-the-job reporter serves as a further expositional vessel, as do several everyone-in-the-cast-plays-variations-on-the-same-archetype sequences. The writing of the book is quite stilted and on-the-nose — the major weakness of the show — but it is supplemented by an incredible use of levels and of the stage as a whole. Its major strength indeed is the synchronous movement of the actors throughout the space, bolstering the sense of community which is to be the major thrust of the piece.

 

Two weird things happened around 30 minutes in: first, there was an unnecessary stereotype of a Spanish man, complete with fast-strummed Spanish guitar and a highly-charged libido. This was odd for a show so intent on bringing people together. The second odd thing was that they started employing the stage’s turntable after 30 minutes (of the 100-minute show) had elapsed, and not at all in a climactic moment. It seems to me that in a show where the image of the globe is so central, a lot more could have been done to make that matter.

 

More than anything else, what this show did for me was answer the question “Why this show now?” better than any I have recently seen. This story of unity, of community, and of the goodness of mankind was a sound for sore ears if there ever was one, and moreover, the tragedy of 9/11 has reached an age where our elders need to pass on what happened so that we truly don’t forget. (For that matter, no kids should be allowed to perform this show. As the character Aly says of being strip-searched in the presence of a female, “You can’t understand.”)

 

There were two mini-rounds of applause during this show, and one of them was earned. The first punctuated the random introduction of eight sexy cardiologists who had arrived to clean up bathrooms filled to the brim with fecal matter. The second was the one that was earned — that following “Become a Newfoundlander,” or, as it is mistakenly titled on the soundtrack, “In the Bar/Heave Away.” In this number, the pit joins the cast of characters whom we already know, and they dance and sing together. This is a song which I had heard before and cared not for; but, at its place in the show, and at this show’s place in time, it was simply perfect.

 

To conclude with two commendations: first, the performance of the woman playing the pilot was remarkable, moving, brilliant, and all the like. Her song “Me and the Sky” moved many to tears, I’m sure, and rightly so. Second, they were damn smart not to include an intermission. This is a short show built on a short idea, with only a couple defined songs and no solid book to back them up. We got in, we got out, and a lot of us left moved all about.

I would rank this show 6.5/10. It was a pleasant evening of entertainment, with major flaws in the writing (but thankfully not one of which was an overindulgence in the words “nine eleven”). It is not a show I would see a second time (as my roommate has one), but evidently, it is a show I would see a first.

 

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