Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
McPherson has taken more than 20 songs from Dylan's catalog and interpolated them as internal monologues, commentary on life in a guesthouse in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1934. Not only do the cast members sing, but many of them also play a variety of instruments onstage.
The action is episodic and beautiful in a bleak way; rather than a linear story, it's a consideration of how strangers see each other and try to reach out. Times are tough, jobs are scarce, and pay is low, but the residents and visitors eventually form a ragged kind of family.
Nick Laine (John Schiappa) has nowhere else to go, so he rents out rooms in his large house before he loses it to foreclosure. His wife Elizabeth (Kelly McCormick, in for Jennifer Blood) is a Cassandra figure, outwardly deranged but actually seeing everything more clearly than anyone else. Their son Gene (Ben Biggers) is a struggling writer, while Marianne (Rayla Garske, in for Sharaaé Moultrie), their adopted daughter, is a Black woman who had been abandoned as an infant by guests at the house and is now pregnant herself.
McCormick gives a powerful performance; since Elizabeth is the dramatic anchor, she has to keep the focus on her whenever she appears (her performance of "Like a Rolling Stone" is bleak and chilling). Schiappa is affecting as a man doing what he thinks is best for his family but realizing he can't control their actions.
In a time of scarcity and uncertainty, Nick's renters' attempts to hold on to hope become increasingly tenuous. Mrs. Neilsen (Carla Woods) is waiting for money from her late husband's estate; blustering Mr. Burke (David Benoit) and his wife (Jill Van Velzer) try to maintain the fiction of his pre-Depression success; and two strangers, Joe Scott (Warren Nolan Jr., in for Matt Manuel) and the pompous but slightly crazed Reverend Marlowe (Jeremy Webb), change the dynamics in the house with their arrival.
As director, McPherson keeps the action in constant motion with the help of a minimal but evocative scenic design by Rae Smith: translucent wall panels rise and fall while projected photos of lakes, wilderness, and towns help set the mood. Smith also designed the character-defining costumes, while Mark Henderson's lighting design is integral in setting the mood of each scene.
Girl from the North Country runs through December 31, 2023, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org. For more information on the tour, visit northcountrytour.com.
Written and directed by Conor McPherson