‘Come From Away’ lands in Boston with compassion on its wings
On September 11, 2001, 38 planes were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland in the wake of the twin towers tragedy. Seven thousand stranded travelers from all over the world were welcomed into this tiny community. With open arms, Gander residents took people into their homes and supported them in a paramount display of human compassion. This powerful story lands on the Citizens Bank Opera House stage Nov. 5 through 17 in the form of the Tony-award winning musical “Come From Away.”
Many of the characters’ storylines are drawn from the real-life participants in this unusual merging of cultures and families. Beverley Bass, who was flying one of the diverted planes that day, was the third female commercial airline pilot hired by American Airlines and later became the airline’s very first female captain. Nick and Diane Marson were both on a flight from London to Texas, Diane returning home and Nick visiting for business. During their time in Gander, the two fell in love.
Danielle K. Thomas plays Hannah, a mother who won’t leave the phone, desperate to hear news from her son who is a firefighter in Brooklyn. Actress Thomas is a native New Yorker and empathizes with the weighty terror Hannah felt at the news. “Everyone knows what they were doing on September 11,” says Thomas. “I remember what it felt like. In tragedy you need something, and this show reminds us that what we need is compassion.” Hannah finds that compassion in Beulah Cooper, a Gander resident whose son is a volunteer firefighter facing similar daily risks.
Hannah O’Rourke, the real-life mother who inspired Thomas’s character in the show, has left quite an impression on Thomas during the interactions the two have had during the “Come From Away” production. “If you meet Hannah, she’s the most amazing Irish Catholic woman from Long Island, and she’s the life of the party at 80 years old,” says Thomas. It was important to the actress that Hannah’s story not merely be distilled to a one-time tragedy, because the woman is so much more than that. “I don’t want to play the hurt, I want to play the love of a mother,” she says.
This is the strategy of the whole show. Though the diverted planes were a result of a great tragedy, the friendships, bonds and coming together that resulted from it stir hope in audiences’ hearts. Thomas hopes viewers come away from the show knowing that it doesn’t take tragic circumstances to make a difference. She says, “Just a smile is enough to change someone’s entire day. It’s the little things that you continue to do that make you become a compassionate person.”