When I first heard the premise for “Between Takeoff and Landing” — “an untold story of 9/11” — I worried for New York-based writer and performer Michael Walsh. So I asked Walsh to talk more about his true tale of being stranded in tiny Gander, Newfoundland, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Gander’s temporary population boom made international headlines, and now, it’s a one-man show.
(Check out the Q&A with the creator of Fringe Festival production “Please Don’t Beat Me Up.”
What's your show about?
“Between Takeoff and Landing” is based on the true story of airline passengers who became stranded on the island of Newfoundland, Canada. [I] was a passenger on an Aer Lingus flight heading from Dublin, Ireland, back to home in New York City. The play unfolds as a travel journal, telling the story of unexpected trip. However, the real story that emerges is about the kindhearted locals who welcomed thousands of people into their community and homes on a moment’s notice. They housed, fed and clothed all the passengers; some for as long as a week while they waited to resume their flights.
Comedy, mystery, one-man show, musical, or clown show?
Comedic solo show.
On the surface, a show about Sept. 11 that’s set in Gander, Newfoundland, sounds like a gamble. In fact, any play about Sept. 11 would be. Were you worried how audiences would approach the show?
Not at all. I have always felt that this is a story that needs to be told. Audiences have really connected to and enjoyed the show in the past, and I am sure Washington will be no different. Most people I meet have heard a little bit about Gander, Newfoundland, during Sept. 11th and are curious about the whole story, especially when they learn the show is a comedy. Everyone has a story of where they were when it happened. This turns out to be a very interesting one.
As a side note, when I tell people that I was actually in the air headed to New York City when the attacks happened, they almost always ask me the same question: “When did they tell you what had happened?” It is in the opening of the play: They didn’t tell us until we had landed.
Tell us about the characters you play.
The main character and narrator is Michael, who is a version of myself. Along the way I portray about 10 other characters, mostly fellow passengers from my flight. After landing in Gander and [getting] stuck on the plane, Michael bonds with Siobhan, a worldly Irish free spirit, with a huge heart and little bit of mischief in mind. Later, Michael meets Siobhan’s seat mate Ben, a high-strung Brooklynite who is desperate to get back to New York. When the Aer Lingus passengers get off the plane, they are greeted by Carl, the heart and soul of the Gander Elks Club, who becomes their host while staying at the Lodge... All of these characters are based on or represent the real people I met during my time in Gander.
What do you hope audiences take away from this play?
That there was such great kindness in the world on such a terrible day. That is the most important thing for me.