Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Sunday 17 February 2019

Remembering 9/11 with full hearts

  • Come from Away, Abbey Theatre
  • Dinner in Mulberry Street, Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, Dublin
Jonathan Andrew Hume and David Shannon in Come From Away
Jonathan Andrew Hume and David Shannon in Come From Away
Jamie O'Neill, Ashleigh Dorrell and Fabiano Roggio in 'Dinner in Mulberry Street'

Emer O'Kelly

A requiem, a tribute, and glorious humour in one, impresses Emer O'Kelly.

Come from Away started as an educational project, apparently. That's something to remember: there is a generation growing up already for whom 9/11 is history. For those of us who saw it unfolding it is a livid scar, painful in the intensity of hatred  and irrational religion knowing no bounds. It even explains, in part, the success of Donald Trump: the enormity of what happened that day helps in understanding the appeal  of his nationalist mantra "America first".

With US airspace closed on that terrible day, hundreds of flights were diverted to Canada and Newfoundland, and remained there, stranded, for a number of days.

That's the basis of Irene Sankoff's and David Hein's musical. Seven years ago, they spent a month in Gander, Newfoundland, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. There they met some of the 7,000 people who had been stranded in the town for four days 10 years earlier, almost doubling the population. On the anniversary, they had come back to pay tribute to their saviours. And they told their stories.

The people of Gander refused all payment; they opened their homes, the library, the school, the police station. The only hotel made no charge. The inhabitants did the laundry for the stranded men and women. They made their bathrooms available. And they prayed with them: there's a moment in Come from Away when contact is made by a local inhabitant pointing to a numbered verse in a foreign language bible clutched by a terrified woman: it is "Be anxious for nothing."

In this jolly, almost raucous re-enactment of four days of terrified mayhem, that is a moment which brings a rush of tears, even for a non-believer. It brought home that in those few days in 2001 in the town of Gander on the island of Newfoundland, and in the face of unimaginable horror, nation spoke to nation beyond the barriers of language.

A cast of 12 play the piece with almost unbelievable verve, joyousness… and ultimately, respect. And the music is stunning.

A triumphant co-production for the Abbey with Junkyard Dog, and Smith and Brant Theatricals, this revival of Come from Away is directed by Christopher Ashley with musical direction by Alan Berry, and it's designed by Beowulf Boitt.

*******

We're not supposed to celebrate "excess" nowadays. Of course, the term excess means different things to different people. Those who have examined themselves from every viewpoint and failed to find a fault believe that anyone who has fun in a different way from them is utterly without redemption: the rigour of smug sacrifice and gloom is the only way to go, otherwise we are doomed.

What they would have said to the Irish writer/roue Fitz James O'Brien doesn't bear thinking about. (He died in the American Civil War at the age of 33).

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Jamie O'Neill, Ashleigh Dorrell and Fabiano Roggio in 'Dinner in Mulberry Street'

His short story Dinner in Mulberry Street has been adapted by Michael James Ford, and is directed by Bairbre Ni Chaoimh for Bewley's Cafe Theatre in Dublin.

It unashamedly celebrates excess as we meet the newly married couple, Agnes and Dick, in their tenement room in New York.

They have been reduced to dire straits from upper middle-class luxury, having been cut off by their respective families for marrying against parental wishes.

On the verge of starvation, they imagine and describe dinners a deux in Escoffier-like perfection, being waited on by their butler while they discuss the success or otherwise of the offerings sent from the kitchen by their French chef Francois. That was then; as their stomachs rumble, this is now.

Enter Giacomo, an Italian immigrant who has followed Dick home after seeing him sell his last possession of value, an old book of classical poetry.

What follows is ludicrously charming, utterly improbable, and a sentimental miracle worthy of Dickens. It's Christmas: and it's perfect fare, delightfully played by Ashleigh Dorrell, Jamie O'Neill and Fabiano Roggio.

Ni Chaoimh, as ever, is more than skilled in her direction, the set is by Andrew Murray, and lit by Colm Maher. And there's a nice fight sequence by Bryan Burroughs.

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