After seeing Come From Away in Salt Lake City and being once again moved and floored by the piece (just like when I saw it on Broadway), I started to get curious about whether or not it was an accurate depiction of what it was like being stranded in Gander. So I reached out to Monica Burke on Twitter, and she told me about her experience being a come from away.
“I was on Aer Lingus flight 105,” Monica told me, which was headed from Dublin when it was diverted to Gander. Ultimately, she spent 11 hours on the tarmac before they were allowed to deboard. She was waylaid for five days in her trip from Dublin to Seattle, though “we were only in Gander for three, stuck overnight in Dublin and in Chicago before I got back.” (After they left Gander, they had to go back to Ireland. She also informed me the same was true for the Kevins in the show, who were sent back to Paris.)
As for whether or not the show is an accurate representation? “The part I know about, yes. It’s weird though as I’ve met other plane people and Gander-ites (as well as other townspeople), I realize how little I know about all the other flights and what their experience was.” However, she can vouch for one part of the story personally: “The real Hannah (and her husband Dennis) were on my flight too.”
Monica assures me that “Her story is true- we were all at the Gander Legion Hall. There was only one phone there and those two maintained vigil over that phone and at the Catholic church.” She also told me that “I stayed with the real Beulah- but the character in the show is a blend of her and a lady named Diane Davis. Real Beulah and Hannah are great friends, have kept in touch and I just saw them in Seattle at the tour opening.”
“There is a moment in the first song that always causes some flashbacks for me- the part where they start with “You are here”- I gasp every time I hear it, even when I know it’s coming. It’s lessened over time, but it’s still there,” Monica tells me when I ask about parts of the show that are hard to watch. But she says the hardest part overall is when Hannah calls Beulah with the news about her son.
She met Sankoff and Hein when they stopped by Beulah’s while she was there for the tenth anniversary (which is when the finale of the show takes place). “I thought they were crazy,” Monica says of their goal to write a musical about the events that happened in Newfoundland. “[I] couldn’t imagine how they could make it into a musical.”
As our interview came to an end, I asked her what her overall feelings towards the experience were, and she told me “It’s always a mixture- there’s survivor’s guilt, a weird uneasy feeling that I was so fortunate amidst this horrific act, there’s sorrow for the O’Rourkes, gratitude to Beulah and the ladies of the Legion for taking care of us- and the whole area for putting their lives on hold for us. But there’s always fear when I talk about this beauty I experienced that I’m triggering a painful memory for someone else.
And at its heart, that’s what Come From Away is about, I think: that beauty of the whole area putting their lives on hold for strangers. When I first wrote about Come From Away for the Board, I mentioned I had only seen the show once, but I knew one day I would go back. And that when I did, it would feel like coming home—I was right. While the show is intense and hard to watch because it’s a marathon ran in a dead sprint, it’s ultimately about beauty and kindness. I’m grateful for Come From Away, and to Monica for her kindness in talking to me about it.
(Photo: Gander Airport Authority)