By Jacob Sahms
On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City. This is well-known even by young people who weren’t alive at the time. But a lesser-known story is of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, where thirty-eight plans were forced to emergency land, the subject of husband-and-wife Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s musical. In Come From Away, now an Apple TV+ film, the radical hospitality of the people of Gander shines through past the immense tragedy and the desperation of the seven thousand passengers.
While this is a recorded play, that is, it was filmed in front of a the first live audience after months of the COVID-19-related shutdown, it is absolutely captivating in the way that it was filmed – and thanks to the incredible lyrics of the writers and the delivery of the cast. The cast is a dozen actors who sing, move through choreography, and deliver one-liners that are witty and brilliant, while playing several characters based on the setting- because the people are individual but also summing up the entire story of thousands of people.
The story starts with the people of Gander, like the mayor, one of the two police officers in town, the new news reporter, the local animal rescue worker, a bus driver, etc. as they begin a ‘normal’ day that will be anything but normal. Soon, those same actors are playing passengers and crew on different planes, some who know what happened that morning when the planes hit the World Trade Center and some who are completely in the dark. There are funny moments (like when they watched Titanic during their twenty-eight hours sitting on the tarmac) and terrifying moments, like when a passenger of Egyptian descent is interrogated. There are too many people, not enough phones, and incredible logistic issues on top of the emotional trauma of the people involved, both residents and unexpected guests.
What happens is what happens when people start to look beyond their own selves and look toward the needs of others. One of the beautiful moments occurs when it’s discovered that even if they don’t speak the same language, the people who read the Bible have the same numeric system so Philippians 4:6 (“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”) is still an encouragement, even if they can’t read the same version. This is just one of the many ways that hospitality rises above all of the differences to find their commonality and serve each other. (Later, the church will also become a welcoming place to those seeking the respite and comfort of its holy space.)
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells his disciples a parable about how they will one day be judged by the way they served their neighbor, the stranger, their enemies, by feeding, clothing, housing, visiting them etc. Come From Away highlights just how beautiful that love can be.
Come From Away has coarse language throughout and frequent references to alcohol consumption.