Girl from the North Country

Girl from the North Country
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Nominated for 7 Tony Awards, the musical, “Girl from the North Country,” written and directed by Conor McPherson, is being presented at the Belasco Theatre, located at 111 West 44th Street in NYC. While featuring performers such as Mere Winningham, Todd Almond, Housso Semon, Craig Bierko, Tom Nelis, Catlin Houlahan and Colin Bates, the production is comprised predominately of a ensemble cast. Featuring the music of Bob Dylan, the show name is titled after a Dylan song showcased in his album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” and is said to be about a girl Dylan once loved while growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, where the play is set. 

The production is during the Depression era wherein the viewer finds the Laine family running a bed and breakfast housing transient and permanent guests. Times are hard and guests infrequent, so the Bed and Breakfast is being foreclosed by the bank. The foreclosure disrupts the lives of everyone at the Bed and Breakfast and leaves owner Nick Laine (Jay O. Sanders) and his wife Elizabeth (Mere Winningham) forced to leave their business/home as well as force their permanent guests to find other dwelling. As age catches up with the couple Nick must watch as Elizabeth experiences bouts of lucidity and dementia that makes her act strangely at times.  Her condition is understood by the family, guests and friends who humor her and take care of her. 

Elizabeth is no longer interested in being the dutiful wife and doesn’t care that Nick is having an affair with Mrs. Neilsen, (Chelsea Lee Williams) one of the boarders.  In fact, welcomes her into the fold. Nick’s son Gene, (Colin Bates) is a drunk who cannot hold a job therefore cannot give the family respite from their financial dilemma. Nick worries what the foreclosure will mean for his children…his son who will suddenly find himself without a home and unable to rely on his father for money.

Nick is also very concerned for his teen-aged adopted black daughter Marianne (Housso Semon), whom a wayward guest left behind as an infant in a suitcase for the Laine family to raise.  Troubled by how the racist white residents of the town would treat Marianne, the Laine's home-schooled Marianne and kept her close to home. Therefore, she didn’t have much interaction with the outside world.  Yet Marianne turns up mysteriously pregnant with no one knowing how she got that way, including Marianne.  Her situation causes concern for Nick especially now that he is about to lose his home and business.  He tries to arrange a marriage for her with a lonely old widower who can at least put a roof over her head.  But Marianne wants to stay with her family and doesn’t want to marry Mr. Perry (Tom Nelis).  Unfortunately, Nick has no idea where he is going to go himself let alone take care of a wife with dementia and a pregnant daughter. Thus, he is forced to make decisions that make his children grow up and live their own lives.  The foreclosure also presents a problem for the Burke family, (the permanent guests performed by Todd Almond, Craig Bierko and Luba Mason) who also are concerned about their feeble-minded grown son and what lies ahead for their family. 

To add to the mix, one very cold and inclement night, 2 strangers show up seeking temporary shelter…a black boxer, Joe Scott, performed by Austin Scott, who is seeking to regain his fame and a con artist preacher named Rev. Marlowe played by Aidan Wharton, who claims to be a seller of bibles.  Joe attempts to give the reluctant Marianne a way out from marrying Mr. Perry and offers her a life with him. 

This drama is highlighted by the wonderful musical performances of Bob Dylan songs sung by the entire cast.  Songs such as: “Girl from the North Country,” Pressing On,” Idiot Wind,” “Sweetheart Like You,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Slow Train,” “Senor,” “True Love Tends to Forget” and more…

During the play the audience is witness to the participation of the family and guests in their yearly celebration of Thanksgiving. Perhaps this scene is meant to be a reminder that no matter what befalls us in life we should listen to and dance to life’s music and be grateful for the opportunity we have to appreciate all the opportunities life affords the living.

So what is the Girl from the North Country about since it does not focus on a particular girl but rather on the rigors of life itself? This writer would say it’s about the joys and struggles of life and the actions one must take in order to circumvent the situations in which humans find themselves. 

Go see the play but remember it is still Coronavirus season so mask wearing is mandatory.

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