Girl fromthe North Country presents an interesting andoriginal marriage of a dramatic play by Conor McPherson with the songs of BobDylan. The originality lies in the blending or weaving of the songs into theplot of the play naturally and seamlessly. You will hear some twenty of Dylan’ssongs or parts of them but they are sung as integral parts of the play and notas stop-the-show performances and applaud-at-the end.
The otherinteresting aspect of the musical is the fact we are watching the broadcast of aradio play. In the opening scene, Dr. Walker (Ferdy Roberts) steps up to anold-style microphone and announces that that tonight’s story takes place in aguesthouse in Duluth, Minnesota in the winter of 1934. He takes the microphone several times duringthe performance as a character and an omniscient narrator.
The characterswho sing also step up to the microphone to perform despite the fact that thisis not a concert of Dylan’s hits. McPherson, who also directs the show, callsthe musical "a conversation between the songs and the story."
Songs canexpress what the characters cannot, or describe their true feeling despite whatthey say. For example, when Katie (Gemma Sutton) leaves Gene (Colin Bates) tomarry someone else, they part haltingly and then express their true feelings inthe song “I want you.”
The plot thatMcPherson has crafted is an old-style story about a number of people in arun-down guesthouse during the Depression. But this is no Annie andthere is no millionaire Mr. Warbucks. Nick Laine (Donald Sage MacKay) owns theguesthouse. He is broke, about to be foreclosed on by the bank, has a wife withdementia, a rebellious, loser, dreamer of son (Gene played by Colin Bates) andan adopted pregnant daughter. Not to mention the guilt he carries fromchildhood which is important.
Marianne (GloriaObianyo), Nick’s adopted daughter, is 19, black, pregnant and refuses todisclose the name of the father. Nick wants her to marry Mr. Perry (SidneyKean), a shoe mender and a good man in his late sixties. He proposes marriageand she sings the song with the refrain “Has anybody seen my love” and refersto Madame Butterfly, another young girl who was impregnated and abandoned.
Nick’s wifeElizabeth (Katie Brayben) in addition to being demented speaks of herpromiscuity and has other issues.
Reverend Marlowe(Finbar Lynch) sells bibles. Joe Scottis a boxer who did three years in a penitentiary and is now living under bridgeand hoping to make a comeback. Mr. and Mrs. Burke (David Ganly and Anna-Jane Casey respectively) have theirshare of troubles including serious financial and marital difficulties andtheir son Elias (Steffan Harri) who is a grown man with the mental capacity ofa child. His fate is worthy of attention.
The interwovenand often tragic stories of the play are drawn with McPherson’s masterful handand the play alone is worth seeing. Dylan’s songs add a significant layer ofsubtlety and drama that take the play well out of a good drama.
The performancesof the cast are praiseworthy for their depth and variety. They are performing apart in a drama and they also have to step up to microphone and sing. The musiciansare on the stage and the set designed by Rae Smith is appropriate without beingoverladen. After all we are watching a radio play being broadcast from arundown guesthouse and the impression of the latter is sufficient.
Girl from theNorth Country has a great deal to offer and is worthseeing more than once. That is the highest compliment one can pay a theatricalwork.
Girl from the North Country by Conor McPherson (book) and Bob Dylan (musicand lyrics) continues until November 24, 2019 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre,260 King St. W. Toronto, Ont. www.mirvish.com