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Girl From the North Country

Reimagining 20 legendary songs by Bob Dylan at Kennedy Center.

Bob Dylan’s music is great, the cast superb, and that makes this a worthwhile night in the theater. Girl from the North Country is written and directed by celebrated playwright Conor McPherson and features Tony Award®-winning orchestrations by Simon Hale. Girl from the North Country reimagines 20 legendary songs of Bob Dylan as they’ve never been heard before, including “Forever Young,” “All Along The Watchtower,” “Hurricane,” “Slow Train Coming,” and “Like A Rolling Stone.” 

Photo by Peter Rosenstein

Girl from the North Country is interesting as a play, but without Dylan’s music I am not sure it would necessarily hold up. It takes place in a guest house in Duluth, MN. during the depression. The Guest House is owned by Nick Laine, who is broke, and will lose it soon. He owes twenty thousand dollars with no way to pay it off. His wife, Elizabeth Laine, is mentally ill; his son Gene is a no-good; and his adopted African American daughter is single, and pregnant. Nick has guests staying at the place, one of which he is having an affair with. He is hoping she will inherit money from her dead husband to help pay off his debt, but that is not to be. At the end of the play, we find out she is pregnant and it is assumed it is his child but she leaves him anyway.  Another couple is there with their disabled son, who is an adult with the mind of a child, who has apparently killed some people. At one point he tries to choke his father, who then apparently drowns him. Then in the middle of the night two more guests arrive, a former boxer who was in prison, and a preacher who is selling bibles.  Ok, enough plot lines for you? Don’t worry, by the end they all leave the Guest House, of course not the disabled man/child who was murdered. The owner and his wife end up staying together until she dies, but do it down south in warmer weather. Ok, had enough? I certainly did.

But again, what makes all this worth a night in the theater is the music, and the superbly talented cast. They bring Dylan’s music to life. In some cases, you realize this may be the first time you understood the words to a Dylan song. However brilliant, Bob Dylan is, no one has ever accused him of having a great voice. And yes, in my youth, I had been to a couple of Dylan concerts. 

Again, the cast is uniformly good with some standouts being; Ben Biggers (Gene Laine), Jennifer Blood (Elizabeth Laine), Matt Manuel (Joe Scott), and John Schiappa (Nick Laine). Also, Chiara Trentalange (Kate Draper), Jeremy Webb (Reverend Marlowe), and Aidan Wharton (Elias Burke).  The great creative team for this production includes costume design by Rae Smith; orchestrations, arrangements, and music supervision by Simon Hale, lighting design by Mark Henderson; sound design by Simon Baker; and music direction by Timothy Splain.

Girl from the North Country will be at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater through New Year’s Eve, December 31st. Tickets are available online