By Tulis McCall
May I just say that I take back every negative thing I have ever said about Bob Dylan. Including the part about the first time one of the cool girls at high school played his record for me back in 1965 or so, and I thought the record was on the wrong speed. Basta!
OK. Stop reading for a moment. Stop reading RIGHT NOW. Go to this website www.publictheater.org and get a ticket to Girl From The North Country at the Public Theater.
Girl From The North Country is one of those once-in-a-lifetime productions. You, I, we go to the theatre like some people go to church or temple or the Mosque or wherever it is that spirit touches your life. We go out of obligation or curiosity or habit. Most of the time our journey is worth it because we are touched on some level that we did not know existed. Then there are those few and magnificent occasions when you see a production like Girl From The North Country and the lid is blown off of your life.
Girl From The North Country is one of those shows that, once the curtain fall you want to go to a dive bar, order a draft beer and cry in it – because there is really nothing else you can think of doing. This is one of those productions that people will whisper about. “Did you SEE it at the Public?” they will say. Before it moved, presumably.
Girl From The North Country is one of those shows you do not want to miss. Of course you could pass on this, but I will be happy to hound you about it for the rest of your life. Just sayin’.
The story by Conor McPherson (Writer and Director) could not be more simple. A guest house in Duluth, Minnesota, 1934 where a room costs $1.50 and whisky is 2 bits. Nick (Stephen Bogardus) and his adopted daughter Marianne (Kimber Sprawl) pretty much run the place. Gene Laine (Colton Ryan) spends his time out of the house, writing and not actually bringing in much needed money. Elizabeth Laine (Mare Winningham) is at home, but because her grip on reality got up and gone some time ago, she is of little use. Elizabeth is more of a nuisance, frankly, but this story is set in a time before we shipped our troubled family members off to a home. So Elizabeth remains at home, being unpredictable from moment to moment and taking up room in her one chair.
The residents at the rooming house include Mrs. Neilsen (Jeanette Bayardelle), a long time resident waiting on money her husband left her. Mr. & Mrs. Burke (Marc Kudisch and Luba Mason) live there on account of they have lost most of their money. Their son Elias (Todd Almond) is with them and appears to be on the deep end of the autistic spectrum. Two new borders show up as the story begins: Rev. Marlowe (David Pittu) and Joe Scott (Sydney James Harcourt). A neighbor, Kate Draper (Caitlin Houlahan) makes a brief appearance at a critical moment in the story. There is also Mr. Perry (Tom Nelis) who his about the only prosperous person in town and interested in Marianne’s future. And finally we have our narrator Dr. Walker (Robert Joy) who appears to have been released from his captivity in Our Town to serve, and imbibe in his morphine, in this production.
The rest of this extraordinary cast are the townsfolk who do everything from magnificent choral work, to moving furniture, to weaving themselves into a shadow community. They are the foundation of this story. The invisible visibles.
Nothing much happens in this town and in this house. And everything happens. People dump their souls onto the table over breakfast. They let their hopes fly when someone catches them in an intimate moment. They set fire to their fears and light up the night. All the while these characters are guided by Dylan’s music, arranged and orchestrated by Simon Hale and Mr. McPherson. Everyone in the cast gets their musical moment or two or a bunch. These are songs that you have never heard before (especially me a former non-fan of Dylan’s) – even if you have heard them before. The musical arrangements and these voices pull the songs down from the rafters and weave them into story. Each one is a jewel of stillness and magnitude. My grandfather used to say, “Life is so daily.” Indeed. In the Laine boarding house hope is a flame that feels too delicate to survive.
The panoply of events rolls out with excruciating detail and slowly seeps over the footlights into your core. This you do not realize until Mare Winningham delivers the first shot with How Does It Feel? toward the end of the first act, and then lowers the boom on you with Forever Young as the story slows to a walk and heads for the barn.
By the time she sings the latter, you have no resistance left because you have been cracked open like a late summer melon. You see yourself juicy and glistening and raw – you see yourself as you never have before.
You DID make your reservation, did you not?
Girl From The North Country – Written and directed by Conor McPherson; Music and lyrics by Bob Dylan
WITH Todd Almond (Elias Burke), Jeannette Bayardelle (Mrs. Neilson), Stephen Bogardus (Nick Laine), Sydney James Harcourt (Joe Scott), Matthew Frederick Harris (Ensemble), Caitlin Houlahan (Kate Draper), Robert Joy (Dr. Walker), Marc Kudisch (Mr. Burke), Luba Mason (Mrs. Burke), Tom Nelis (Mr. Perry), David Pittu (Reverend Marlowe), Colton Ryan (Gene Laine), John Schiappa (Ensemble), Kimberly Sprawl (Marianne Laine) Rachel Stern (Ensemble), Chelsea Lee Williams (Ensemble), and Mare Winningham (Elizabeth Laine)
Scenic and Costume Design Rae Smith; Lighting Design Mark Henderson; Sound Design Simon Baker; Orchestrator, Arranger and Music Supervisor Simon Hale; Additional Arrangement by Simon Hale and Conor McPherson; Movement Director Lucy Hind; Fight Director UnkleDave’s Fight-House; Music Coordinator Dean Sharenow; Music Director Marco Paguia
The Public Theater (Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis; Executive Director, Patrick Willingham) presents the North American premiere of GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY. Through Sunday, December 9.
Public Theater Partner, Supporter, Member and Single tickets, starting at $95, can be accessed now by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street.
The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (There is no 7:30 p.m. performance on October 2 or November 22. There is an added performance on November 21 at 1:30 p.m. The performance on October 10 is at 8:00 p.m. and at 7:00 p.m. on October 17).
To allow as many New Yorkers the opportunity to experience GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY as possible, there will be an open caption performance on October 13 at 1:30 p.m. and an ADA audio described performance on October 20 at 1:30 p.m.