By Elizabeth Ann Foster
Girl from the North Country is all about Bob Dylan’s music. I will never go to a Bob Dylan anything again unless it is fully vetted. By that, I mean only if reliable sources tell me it’s a must-see. One of the longest nights was sitting through a Dylan concert in Halifax a few years back. Dylan, a microphone, a guitar, and that’s it. For hours. It started to sound monotonous after the first two songs.
Ever hopeful as I’m a “cup half full” person, I ventured out again, this time to the Belasco Theatre for a play with vintage music and lyrics by Dylan. This production was written and directed by Irish dramatist Conor McPherson and included a coterie of actors and musicians.
The theater was half full – there was that optimism again.
Then I focused on the stage. An instrument, a microphone – I broke into a cold sweat. Could this be happening? Was this foreshadowing?
I did stay for the full show.
I recognized some of the songs this time – two, “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Forever Young.” “No Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “Mr. Tamborine Man,” or “Blowing In The Wind” didn’t fit the narrative of Duluth, Minnesota in 1934. I suppose if I had made the scene with Dylan at Cafe Wha or Gerde’s Folk City in Greenwich Village in the ’60s these would have made more sense. But alas, that’s a bit before my time.
Who was the girl from the North country who kept yelling down the hall throughout the play? Not a single person in the audience I spoke to had a theory.
We get to see a slice of American Life of bygone times. Girl From The North Country is a depression-era story about a man, Nick Laine (Jay O. Sanders), about to lose his home. He rents out rooms, trying to survive. The songs are not part of the story or plot, making the production slightly more interesting. Narrated by the local doctor, we learn this is the last Thanksgiving and time these particular people will be together. Do you have to wonder how they feel without a home?
The women carry the show. Memorable, and the highlight is Mrs. Laine (Mare Winningham). She has dementia and lost her filter years ago. She is rip-roaring hilarious and made this otherwise severe, sad, and depressing depiction of life wake up the audience. Another resident Mrs. Burke (Luba Mason), takes off and starts playing the drums – in heels!
This is for a Dylan diehard fan. Memorabilia is in a downstairs pop-up museum in the bar area that includes Dylan’s harmonica.
Todd Almond as Elias Burke, Colin Bates as Gene Laine, Jeannette Bayardelle as Mrs. Neilsen, Caitlin Houlahan as Kate Draper, Robert Joy as Dr. Walker, Luba Mason as Mrs. Burke, Matt McGrath as Reverend Marlowe, Tom Nelis as Mr. Perry, Jay O. Sanders as Nick Laine, Austin Scott as Joe Scott, Housso Semon as Marianne Laine, and Mare Winningham as Elizabeth Laine. Soloists/Ensemble Matthew Frederick Harris, John Schiappa, Rachel Stern, and Chelsea Lee Williams
Music by Bob Dylan “Sign on the Window” from New Morning, 1970. “Went to See the Gypsy” from New Morning, 1970. “Tight Connection to My Heart” (Has Anyone Seen My Love?)” from Empire Burlesque, 1985 “Slow Train” from Slow Train Coming, 1979 “License to Kill” from lnfidels, 1983 “I Want You” from Blonde on Blonde, 1966 “Like a Rolling Stone” from Highway 61 Revisited, 1965 “Make You Feel My Love” from Time Out of Mind, 1997 “What Can I Do For You?” from Saved, 1980
“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” from The Basement Tapes, 1975 “Jokerman” from lnfidels, 1983 “Sweetheart Like You” from Infidels, 1983 “True Love Tends to Forget” from Street-Legal, 1978 “Girl From the North Country” from The FreeWheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963 “Hurricane” from Desire, 1976* “All Along the Watch Tower” from John Wesley Harding, 1967 “Idiot Wind” from Blood on the Tracks, 1975 “Duquesne Whistle” from Tempest, 2012** “Senor” (Tales of Yankee Power)” from Street-Legal, 1978 ”Is Your Love in Vain?” from Street-Legal, 1978 “Forever Young” from Planet Waves, 1974 “Pressing On” from Saved, 1980 *written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy **written by Bob Dylan with Robert Hunter
Conductor/Piano/Harmonium: Marco Paguia Associate Conductor/Guitars: Andy Stack Violin/Mandolin: Martha McDonnell Bass: Mary Ann McSweeney Drums: Craig Bierko/Luba Mason/John Schiappa Music Coordinator: Dean Sharenow Associate Music Director: Wiley DeWeese Keyboard Programmer: Randy Cohen Keyboards Music Copying: Emily Grishman Music Preparation/ Adriana Grace/Alden Terry
Run time 2 hours 30 minutes. One 15-minute intermission