Wednesday, January 16, 2019

"How I Learned What I Learned"


How I Learned What I Learned
August Wilson (Co-Conceived with Todd Kreidler)
Marin Theatre (in co-production with Lorraine HansberryTheatre and Ubuntu Theatre Project)

Steven Anthony Jones
As the elderly man walks across the stage carrying his aged limp with dignity and purpose, we are immediately struck by eyes that twinkle with humor and a face beautifully burrowed with a lifetime of experience.  The African American gentleman makes his way over to a hat tree to take off his jacket, revealing a tee-shirt that on the back in bold letters says, “I am an accident; I did not turn out right;” and on the front, “I am supposed to be white.”

After the audience’s laughter dies down, we soon learn that August Wilson -- the famed playwright and author of the ten-play “The Pittsburgh Cycle” chronicling the African-American experience of the twentieth century – in no way believes the writing on the shirt he now sheds.  While he reads from the mammoth Third Edition of Webster’s International Dictionary that blacks are “outrageously wicked people ... connected to the devil” while whites are “innocent, fortunate, and decent” people, Steven Anthony Jones as August Wilson is quick to tell us in no uncertain terms, “We black people are not an accident ... Our births are moments of profound creativity.” 

And thus begins a near-two-hour gentle rambling and remembering of experiences, philosophies, and learnings in which Steven Anthony Jones is most believably, most astonishingly August Wilson.  Starring in the one-person autobiographical play that the playwright wrote and first premiered three years before his death in 2002, the much-revered, veteran actor Mr. Jones presents a captivating, enlightening, and often wonderfully humorous How I Learned What I Learned.  Directed by Margo Hall with evident love, respect, and admiration for both the playwright and this actor, How I Learned What I Learned opens at Marin Theatre in a joint production with Lorraine Hansberry Theatre and Ubuntu Theatre Project – both of whose stages Mr. Jones will continue to play the role in the weeks to come.

Steven Anthony Jones
As Steven Anthony Jones recounts August Wilson’s family history, life, and learnings, headline topics are typed across a wall of illuminated hanging papers – a three-dimensional collage designed by Edward E. Haynes, Jr. and luminously accented by Stephanie Johnson’s lighting design.  The effect is a lifetime of poetry and play scripts from which Mr. Jones’ August Wilson draws his stories and mini-sermons, while sitting on a wooden-slab porch reminiscent of scenes from one of his family-based plays like Fences. 

Time and again, August uses humor to land a stark point about the reality of black history in America.  Noting his family arrived on these shores in the early 17th century, he wryly states that for the first 244 years, his ancestors had no problem finding work; but that since 1865, “It has been hell.”  His mother became part of the “Great Migration” to the North in the early twentieth century, landing in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, where he tells us with a smirk that in 1955 lived 54,997 blacks and three old, white ladies.  Those three were the only three whites who came back to a Catholic congregation the week after the monsignor announced that blacks would be welcomed.

The harsh reality of what it was like in the mid-1960s to be a twenty-year-old black man in the Hill District comes home in several anecdotes that Mr. Jones relates of August Wilson’s attempts to get a job.  The young August does not last long at a series of positions, told upon hiring in a toy store’s stock room, “If I catch you stealing, I will shoot you;” asked to stop mowing grass after the home’s white owner screams, “Get him off my lawn;” and admonished severely for being twenty seconds late as a restaurant’s dishwasher.  In every case, the young man desperately in need of a job immediately quits, having learned from his mother, “Something is not always better than nothing.”

The influence of August Wilson’s mother on his own development as a person and a writer is a key thread throughout his story.  In a particularly poignant moment, Mr. Jones solemnly relates one of the author’s insights after his mother died. “You find out after all those years you have been living in your mother’s prayers, and now you have to live on your own.

Steven Anthony Jones
We meet many of the Hill District’s residents who often became prototypes for characters in Mr. Wilson’s plays.  There’s the sax-playing Cy Morocco, “an African lost in America,” who taught a young man who was surprised his love of saxophone did not mean he could just pick it up and play it with no practice that the same principle applied to his desired career. “August, you want to be a writer ... then learn how to do it,” inspiring the happy-go-lucky high-school dropout to take his love of reading and poetry and seek someone who could teach him how to write well.  The flow of stories is full of such short portraits of the people who later populated the scenes and scenarios the playwright would recreate of his beloved Hill District.

Steven Anthony Jones gives no less than a tour-de-force performance as he embodies the almost larger-than-life persona of the aged August Wilson.  His deep, gravely voice hypnotizes the enrapt audience while we also at times want to reach out and help him as he gingerly with some obvious old-age pains makes his way down the porch’s steps. 

While on the one hand probably few of us wants the evening to come to an end because of the sheer fascination of both the subject and the actor portraying him, in fact the length of the play feels about fifteen minutes too long, especially given no intermission.  Frankly, I found myself wondering toward the end how many more titles would be typed on the papered wall to announce yet one more short story.  At the same time, I could not help but thoroughly enjoy all, up to the very last one.

This three-company production of August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned now showing on the Marin Theatre stage must not be missed by anyone who has ever seen even one of the playwright’s works.  But at the same time, there is so much to be gained about the experience of being African American in a white America even for someone who has never heard of the playwright or his incredible Pittsburgh Cycle.  Just to be in the presence of Steven Anthony Jones as he becomes August Wilson is a blessing and a memory that should live in each audience member’s bank for years to come.

Rating: 5 E

How I Learned What I Learned continues through February 3, 2019 at Marin Theatre, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley.  Tickets are available online at https://tickets.marintheatre.org/Online/ or by calling the box office at 415-388-5208, Tuesday – Sunday, noon – 5 p.m.

How I Learned What I Learned continues next at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, February 14 – 24, 2019 at Buriel Clay Theater, 762 Fulton Street, San Francisco (https://www.lhtsf.org) and at Ubuntu Theater Project (http://www.ubuntutheaterproject.com) at a date to be announced, Waterfront Conservatory & Playhouse, 2010 4th Street, Berkeley.

Photo Credits:  Kevin Berne




Monday, January 14, 2019

"A History of WWII: THe D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin"


A History of WWII: The D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin
John Fisher

John Fisher
Is it because he was just an over-imaginative, hyper-active boy?  Was it the fact his parents had a woods in the back yard that begged to be the site of grandiose war games with the neighborhood gang?  Did he really see himself as a WASP-y kid who needed the thrill of play bullets, bombs, and battles to put some gusto into his otherwise dull life?  Or was it really those well-dressed, deep-voiced Germans that he and his brother first saw one night on TV in Where Eagles Dare that led him to being “totally obsessed with World War II”? 

To witness how many times John Fisher bites his hand while almost drooling uncontrollably whenever he recalls seeing a handsome Nazi on some war film, one begins to believe his self-professed fanaticism about World War II is in fact highly connected to his obsession with those German men in black uniforms full of iron crosses.  During the 90+ minutes of his A History of WWII: The D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin – now in an extended run at San Francisco’s Marsh – the creator and sole performer of the show repeats over and again that same gagging gesture, often while making sounds resembling a dog in heat. 

John Fisher
But that is just one of a series of repetitive, often frenetic acts that John Fisher employs while recounting in incredible details the major, European battles of the Second World War.  Scenes often drawn from movies such as The Longest Day or The Battle of the Bulge are reenacted with the athletic enthusiasm of an eight-year-old as he romps and rolls around the entire floor, jumps and falls with abound as well as bumps into walls and crawls like a snake up an aisle’s stairs.  All along, he somehow convinces us as audience to make the sounds of rat-a-tat machine guns, exploding hand grenades, and whizzing torpedoes – and we actually do so time and again as his friends must once have done in his back yard.  As he and we play out battle after battle (all of which begin to look in this child-play somewhat alike), we hear details, facts, and figures that spit out almost as fast as a machine gun’s bullets.

But wait, there’s more.  These war-time movies have great scores. Our performer is prone to become the full London Philharmonic Symphony and its conductor in order to recreate a famous movie score while at the same time reenacting yet one more scene usually involving one of his handsome Nazis being staved off by an American hero.  All the while, he prods us to become the snare drum section of the symphony.  But by the third or forth time, these scores, scenes, and symphony recreations also begin to all look and sound alike.

As the war progresses from the shores of Normandy finally to the streets of Berlin (and even to the bunker of Hitler himself), a number of side trips are taken into the performer’s childhood with stories about such things as “The Potato Chip Incident” (resulting in a major falling out between him and his older brother) or an encounter with Mr. Reid, the principal of his school.  The Holocaust becomes a special focus for a time, with this historian providing his theory why Hitler was so focused on the annihilation of the Jews (one that frankly is a bit difficult to accept and ignores the prior millennium of anti-Semitism that engulfed much of Europe, leading to Hitler’s “final solution” to the Jewish question). 

John Fisher
The sheer energy that Mr. Fisher brings to his epical rendition of the war is not to be believed until it is experienced.  This is a performance that is a major calorie-burning workout for him, all the while as he never stumbles in spilling forth details and descriptions of the Allied march toward Nazi defeat.  There is no way his audiences cannot walk away without learning some part of this history that may have evaded them previously, and certainly we leave with an admiration for John Fisher’s command of and passion for that history.

But all along, there is this infatuation of the Nazi physique that (in my opinion) begins to wear a bit thin.  Even he admits, “This is what is scary about your World War II obsession ... You begin to admire the worst person in history.”  While his fist-biting reaction to Nazis is initially funny, the continuous thread up until the evening’s last scene in a modern art museum is a bit much – especially for those of us Jewish or not who abhor anything connected with Nazism and Hitler himself. 

In the end, for all the energy Mr. Fisher brings, this History of WWII loses some of its impact and begins even to lose some audience members in sleepy nods because of the repetitive techniques and antics of the performer as well as the sheer volume of details (and side trips) related.  Perhaps some continued editing to bring the performance more into the seventy-five-minute range might be just the belt-tightening to make a good show even better.

Rating: 3.5 E

A History of WWII: The D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin continues in an extended run through February 2, Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. at at the San Francisco Marsh, 1062 Valencia Street.  Tickets are available online at https://themarsh.org/. 

Photo Credit: Paul Tena

Friday, January 11, 2019

"Paradise Square: A New Musical"


Paradise Square: A New Musical
Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas & Larry Kirwan (Book); Conceived by Larry Kirwan; Jason Howland & Larry Kirwan (Music); Nathan Tysen (Lyrics)
Based on the Songs of Stephen Foster



The Cast of Paradise Square: A New Musical
In what is now regarded as the first inner-city slum in America -- one teeming by the early 1860s with muddy filth, mosquito-bearing disease, rampant street crime, and blatant prostitution – marital, family, and friendship blending of unlikely races and cultures established the seeds for tap, vaudeville, jazz, and even modern rock.  The hidden but important history of this mid-nineteenth century, New York City neighborhood known as Five Points is the focus of the largest undertaking for Berkeley Repertory Theatre in its fifty year history, with thirty-two actors and eight band members presenting the astounding, breath-taking world premiere musical, Paradise Square: A New Musical. 

With music based on one of America’s most-loved and yet most-controversial song writers, Stephen Foster -- whose music has been widely sung by both elementary school kids and by black-faced minstrel performers – Paradise Square: A New Musical touts a stellar team of creators whose combined credentials are mammoth: Marcus Gardley, Craig Lucas & Larry Kirwan (Book); Jason Howland & Larry Kirwan (Music); and Nathan Tysen (Lyrics).  The result is an exciting, exuberant cross-pollination of Irish and African-American traditions where high-stepping jigs and body-swerving shuffles mix and mingle as they tell a Civil War era story whose truths, tragedies, and ultimate triumphs have been too long ignored.

Christina Sajous as Nelly & Cast Members
Surrounded by three-story, metal outlines of cubby-holed tenements with their stairs, fire escapes, and windowed perches, a neighborhood bar called Paradise swings into our sight, one owned by the Irish immigrant Willie O’Brien (Brendan Wall) and his African American wife, Nelly Freeman (Christina Sajous).  Amidst an array of white and black patrons are several mixed-race couples like the former slave and now free Reverend Samuel Cornish (Daren A. Herbert) and his Irish wife and sister of Willie, Annie O’Brien (Madeline Trumble).  Revival-fervor voices rise in “Some People Do” as Irish high stepping dances erupt.  From those who live there, we hear about Five Points, “where folks are free to be who they are and love who they want.”  But Willie and his Irish pals are now off to the war, leaving Nellie in charge of the couple’s prized property with the help of sister-in-law, Annie.

Jacob Fishel
The scene quickly transitions to Woods Music Emporium where the country’s most prolific, most popular, and yet now often-drunken and broke song writer, Stephen Foster, is trying to sell one of his latest songs.  While the proprietor is hoping for another of his “plantation” songs (i.e., those happy tunes written with a black dialect that white folks love to sing), Stephen sits at the piano to try on something a bit different.  Jacob Fishel as Stephan sings in a searching, haunting voice “Was My Brother in the Battle?” a number Elmer Woods (Mark Uhre) agrees may be Stephen’s best yet but one he is only willing to buy for twenty cents.  Its sad, soulful refrain is not what his hoop-skirt-wearing, squeaky voiced students want to sing.

Stephen has left his wife and daughter to come to Five Points where “the new song I had hoped for is happening right here.”  He sees a ‘Piano Player Wanted’ sign at the Paradise Saloon and asks a skeptical Nellie for a job.  When she says maybe as long as he does not ever play her most hated songwriter, Stephen Foster, Steven quickly changes his name to Milton Moore and accepts the position for room, board, and all the free drinks he wants.

Into the world of the Paradise Saloon also simultaneously arrive two very different young men: a penniless nephew of Annie’s, Owen Duigan, just off the ship from Ireland where he is escaping the potato famine and a runaway slave from Tennessee, quickly renamed from his give-away plantation name to William Henry Lane.  William is seeking refuge as part of the underground railroad that now runs right through the saloon (thanks to the pleas for his protection by Reverend Sam). 

Sidney Dupont & A.J. Shiveley
The two prove their worth to Nellie as saloon entertainers in an electrifying dancing duel-of-sorts that sends Owen (A.J. Shively) into a rapid toe-tapping, high-stepping, sky-jumping Irish jig only to be matched by a body jiving, smooth flowing, rubber-torso-bending shuffle by William (Sidney Dupont).  Dancing and singing to a version of “Camptown Races” unlike any version this audience has ever heard, the two thrill Nellie and Annie (and all of us) while also solidifying a fierce friendship between them.

Cast Members of Paradise Square: A New Musical
Much of the thrilling uniqueness of Paradise Square is the role that dance plays in conveying the historical storyline itself.  As choreographer, Bill T. Jones time and again designs massive eruptions of dances that seem impossible in terms of their speed, dexterity, and complexity while at the same time are always emotionally beautiful and deeply impactful.  Taking a tune every American school kid of the mid-twentieth century sang time and again and turning it inside out to produce a Foster-based number fresh and furious, Messieurs Howland, Kirwin, and Tysen give us an “Oh, Susannah” that serves as the background of another great dance-off of the two cultures -- this time a stage full of Irish high-flying hammer stepping and of African-American body grinding, heavy footwork, and eye-popping hand-slapping.  What begins as group versus group evolves to a mixture of both styles that is a blended prediction of the future of American dance and music.

Outstanding dance is not the only strength of this new musical.  Stellar voices reign supreme throughout.  Examples include a gorgeously emotional “Someone to Love,” sung by Christina Sajous’ Nelly as she both mourns and celebrates a love lost to the war.  Her resilient, brave, and survival spirit later trumpets its strength in a climatic “Let It Burn,” a song that sends chills down one’s spine while bringing tears to the eyes.  Among other arresting moments in song is one sung by the returning, spurned wife of Stephen Foster, Janey, with Kennedy Caughell receiving one of the night’s loudest, most sustained applauses for a defiantly delivered in crystal clear beauty, “Janey with the Light Brown Hair.” 

As wars often do, the Civil War and a call for drafting all white citizens and immigrants disrupts the magical status quo that somehow had emerged in the Five Points.  Recent Irish immigrants do not want to fight in an American war they do not see as theirs and are particularly angry that richer whites can buy themselves out of serving with $300 – an amount that no Irish immigrant has.  Young Owen voices their anger and frustration in a powerful “I Will Not Die in Springtime.”  On the other hand, the free Blacks of the North do want to fight in order to help their sisters and brothers of the South, but they are not allowed to enlist.  William sings with religious fervor their desire in “I’d Be a Soldier,” expounding in compelling tones that resonate in sweet richness, “I’d be a soldier for my country ... to die far, far away.”
  
Christina Sajous
This new difference between the once-blended, mixed-race community is further complicated by a dock strike where Irish workers lose their jobs and Blacks cross the lines for jobs sorely needed (and ones they were never offered in the past). The rift between the Irish and African Americans of Five Points will prove to be deadly and permanent, leading to this country’s worst riot to-date, the New York Draft Riot of 1863.  It also ushers Nelly’s aforementioned and ever-crescendoing “Let It Burn” as the riot comes to her Paradise. “This fire makes me stronger ... These walls do not define me,” she declares as Christina Sajous solidifies her portrayal of Nelly as the most memorable performance among many fabulous ones of the evening.

The massive and tall stage of the Roda Theatre is transformed into the Five Points neighborhood by the scenic genius of Allen Moyer, with tenant walls moving seamlessly in and out and the Paradise Saloon magically appearing on a turntable that also serves as a device to enable Director Moisés Kaufman to move the large cast through complicated scenes on streets and in the neighborhood buildings.  Backdrop projections of the historical pictures of the neighborhood further set the scene and are the palette for some of the incredible lighting effects of Donald Holder, whose striking color schemes greatly enhance the corresponding action on the stage.  Jon Weston’s sound design, Toni-Leslie James’ period costumes, and Mathew B. Armentrout’s wig/hair designs round out a creative team that is surely second-to-none for a local world premiere of this magnitude.  Finally, the music direction and orchestrations of Jason Howland provide an array of Steven Foster’s songs as never heard before, all played with vigor and hints of that Civil War period by an excellent band ensemble.

History lessons should never by relegated to just classrooms, text books, or even educational TV.  When tackled by a theatrical team as the one that has researched, written, and produced this Berkeley Repertory Theatre world premiere of Paradise Square: A New Musical, an important history of a brief time in America’s past comes to life in front of us with an impact no other medium but live theatre can match.  For all of us in the audience, we leave with much to ponder as we recall the final words of the evening: “Five Points was a place where a group of Americans lived in the future, a future still to be realized.”

Rating: 5 E, MUST-SEE

Paradise Square: A New Musical continues through in extension through February 24, 2019 on the Roda Stage of Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA.  Tickets are available at http://www.berkeleyrep.org/ or by calling 510-647-2975 Tuesday – Sunday, noon – 7 p.m.

Photos by Kevin Berne and Alessandra Mello, Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Come from Away"


Come from Away
Irene Sankoff & David Hein (Book, Music & Lyrics)



The Cast of Come from Away
“I’m sitting in my car.”
“I’m in the library.”
“I’m in the staff room.”
“And I turned on the radio.”

Like almost everyone worldwide and everyone in the opening night audience of SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre, citizens of Gander, Newfoundland remember where they were at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001.  But unlike the rest of us, the 9000 inhabitants of this remote island province of Canada also remember seeing thirty-eight planes land at their airport, eventually to unload into their tiny community 7000 dazed, scared, sleepy, hungry passengers and crew – all desperately in need of a hot shower and clean clothes. 

How this town and the even smaller villages around it responded over the next five days is the subject of one of the most riveting, inspiring, heart-warming, and yes, funny musicals to come to the American stage in recent years.  The immediate, sustained standing ovation full of loud, long ‘hurrahs’ at the evening’s end for this touring production now in San Francisco echoed the similar responses Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Come from Away has consistently received since its 2015 joint world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse and Seattle Repertory and since its 2017 opening on Broadway, where it still rocks the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre nightly (as well as on stages in Dublin, Toronto, Melbourne, and soon London).

From the initial thump-thump, rollicking beats of the opening “Welcome to the Rock,” Tony Award winning Director Christopher Ashley quickly establishes a sense of tension, urgency, and anticipation even as the full company of Come from Away recall how normal that September morning began for each.  Town members jerk their torsos, stomp one foot, and move with purpose as they recount in song and speech the moments leading up to the sight of the first planes. 

The Cast of Come from Away
As in most of the musical’s fifteen numbers, “Welcome to the Rock” features the entire, on-stage company, with all members taking their turn to spotlight the true-life story of either a passenger, a crew member, or a townsperson (with all dozen outstanding cast members playing one key and many other multiple roles).  What makes the one-hundred-minute, no-intermission musical especially compelling is that it is based on interviews Irene Sankoff and David Hein conducted at the tenth anniversary reunion of the citizens of Gander and many of those that were forced to be there for those five harrowing but also life-affirming and life-changing days – with most of the real-life names and their related stories retained in the pulsating, punchy script.

The Baptist church moves out its pews; a school prepares to fit 700 people where 400 students usually reside; the Lions Club looks for all the extra toilet paper it can find while the local Shoppers offers up for free anything on its shelves from aspirin, mouthwash, deodorant, diapers, and tampons (all related by madly rushing Ganders in the heart-pounding -- yet also hilarious --  “Blankets and Bedding”).  With an immediate switch of roles and the use of wooden chairs now crammed together in the shape of a crowded plane, the cast quickly relates what it was like to be on those planes in “28 Hours/Wherever We Are,” with little-to-no news and only rumors of why they are there and why they cannot get off.  (“An accident?”  “A helicopter crash in Pennsylvania?”)  The cleverly directed movements (staged by Kelley Devine) of those on the stranded planes becomes a mostly seated, but totally vigorous dance of mixed boredom, discomfort, impatience, and fear. “What’s happening?” is the continual refrain that frightfully pops up between sung and spoken narratives of the trapped passengers. 

When the passengers from countries all over the world finally begin to disembark into lines of yellow school buses (made available by striking drivers who set aside their bitter labor-dispute in order to help), they sing with trepidation of “Darkness and Trees,” in a haunting number where those who cannot speak English are particularly frightened when greeted by smiling Salvation Army volunteers in their military-looking uniforms.  But the big hearts and generosity of the Gander people begin to win over the exhausted passengers, and stories emerge of lives of both visitors and hosts becoming forever intertwined and thus changed.

The Cast of Come from Away
The combination of musical numbers being both sung and spoken while accompanied at all times by an onstage band of instruments like fiddle, mandolin, Irish flute, harmonium, and accordion (all conducted by Cynthia Kortman Westphal) makes the story-telling all the more powerful.  Impossible it is to sit without moving, tapping, or snapping something of one’s own body – all the time leaning in as wave after wave of human interest stories comes from both those forced to visit and those stepping up to welcome.  Unlikely romances form like that between a Texan divorcee (Christine Toy Johnson) and an Englishman (Chamblee Ferguson) as their Diane and Nick try to “Stop the World” long enough to fall in love amidst the beautiful scenery in a world now full of terror.  On the other hand, two gays both named Kevin (Nick Duckart and Andrew Samonsky) find that the strain of what has happened opens up relationship wounds that probably had long been festering.

Throughout the many singular stories, there is a pervasive intensity and edge that electrifies the air, with everyone trying to find out what has really happened and to whom.  We are in wide-eyed awe as we watch these people respond to each other with heart, hope, and help in the midst of terrifying tragedy.

Yet all along the way, we in the audience surprise ourselves as we continually erupt in out-loud laughter.  Human nature and our often awkward, unrehearsed reactions to foreign situations are indeed funny.  A chorus line of volunteer bathroom cleaners in rain slickers and a cod-kissing ceremony to initiate new Newfoundlanders (while drinking the rum-based “Screech”) are just two of many scenes where laughter erupts in amidst other scenes where holding back tears is difficult.

Among the latter is a moving scene captured in the number entitled “Prayer,” where weary, worried passengers and natives find individual solace in meditations from their Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu backgrounds.  Their prayers collectively rise to the heavens, asking as one passenger (Kevin T. played by Andrew Samonsky) beautifully sings the essence of all, “Make me a channel of your peace, where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope.” 

Like probably others among the thousands of visitors, Hannah finds particular solace, friendship, and comfort from one particular local, a woman named Beulah (a rather bombastic Julie Johnson with a heart the size of the Grand Canyon).  After they discover their sons are both fire fighters and both of their boys like to tell corny jokes, they bond for what will likely be life.  When the 9/11 fate of Hannah’s son finally becomes known, the tender cry of Marika Aubrey’s rapturously sung “Something’s Missing” is echoed by a cast who sing a nation’s and a world’s refrain of how all feel in the tragic aftermath.  (Ms. Aubrey stood in on opening night in the role normally played by Danielle K. Thomas.)

The grandeur and beauty of the story is enhanced by the simple but majestic scenic design of Beowulf Boritt with its tall, northern pines and use of mostly wood-backed chairs as movable scenic pieces.  The lighting of Howell Binkley creates a world of northern night sky wonder and spotlighted silhouettes while Gareth Owen’s sound design ensures not one phrase of this spoken/sung narrative is ever lost.  Finally the costumes of Toni-Leslie James bring together both a local array of characters and a world of visiting cultures.

Come from Away captures in so many ways the feelings, memories, and lingering effects we all feel of those world-shattering minutes of 9/1l and the few days following.  At the same time, the musical is an anthem to the human spirit and the humanity that exists among all peoples of the world.  Both smiles and tears pervade during the hundred minutes of its too-fast passing.  We are left to ponder and to affirm what the Mayor of Gander professes at the ten-year anniversary, “Tonight we honor what was lost, but we also commemorate what we found.”

Rating: 5 E

Come from Away continues through February 3, 2019, at SHN’s Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at Tickets are available at https://www.shnsf.com.

Photo Credit:  Matthew Murphy