Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Girl from the North Country
The musical is set to the music of Bob Dylan and in his own hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, during the peak of the Great Depression. Patriarch Nick Laine (John Schiappa) is facing foreclosure of his guesthouse as he juggles caring for his two older children, Gene and adopted daughter Marianne (Ben Biggers and Sharaé Moultrie respectfully), as well as his wife Elizabeth (Jennifer Blood), who suffers from an illness comparable to dementia. Marianne happens to be black raised in an all-white household and is pregnant. The paternity she keeps a mystery. Local cobbler, Mr. Perry (Jay Russell), is eyeing her as a prospect for marriage with promise of financial security. Brother Gene battles alcoholic tendencies with his goal of becoming a writer. As if their own personal problems were not enough, more drama unfolds as guests who check into the Laine guesthouse leave all ever changed.
Written and directed by Conor McPherson, the musical is more like a play with music, with Dylan's songs doing little to advance plot. There are also many characters, with the focus moving sporadically from one to the other, and little room for their development. This may be the author's intention, to make them more universal in theme, but they may leave audiences wanting more. The music is beautifully orchestrated and arranged under the supervision of Simon Hale. Dylan's poetic style of lyricism still stands on its own. Rae Smith provides costume and scenic design that are both simplistic and authentic. Mark Henderson's lighting design fills in the spaces to great effect and is the highlight of the technical crew.
The cast are all strong singers. Sharaé Moultrie as Marianne Laine and Aidan Wharton as Elias Burke (a young, mentally challenged guest at the guesthouse) show off their range of singing skill in their musical numbers. Carla Woods as another guest resident, Mrs. Neilsen, is given ample opportunities beyond what one might expect of her character to give beautiful interpretations of Mr. Dylan's music and lyrics. The stand out is probably Jennifer Blood as matriarch Elizabeth Laine, who invests all her body and voice in her rendition of the classic "Like a Rolling Stone." Some characters, however, have very little opportunity to express themselves in song, such as Nick Laine, Mr. Perry, and Dr. Walker (Alan Ariano who also serves as a narrator of sorts throughout the play).
Girl from the North Country will leave many wanting more, including myself. Some mysteries are never explained; How did Marianne get pregnant? Or, even more importantly, who is the "Girl from the North Country?" The author/director leaves it in the minds of the audience to determine. It is a moving piece of theatre. Where it will move any one audience member is a personal journey.
Girl from the North Country, presented by Truist Broadway, runs through January 7, 2024, at Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham NC. For tickets and information, please visit www.dpacnc.com or the Ticket Center at DPAC in person or call 919-680-2787. For more information on the tour, visit northcountrytour.com.
Writer and Director: Conor McPherson