Girl From the North Country
The Public Theater, New York City, (212) 967-7555
Bayardelle takes her turn at the mike.
“Forget every knee-jerk resistance you’ve ever felt toward the idea of the jukebox musical,” said David Rooney in The Hollywood Reporter. Working with a careful selection of songs from Bob Dylan’s vast catalog, Irish playwright Conor McPherson has created a portrait of America’s disenfranchised that’s best thought of as “an emotionally penetrating tone poem.” Set in 1934 at a boardinghouse in Dylan’s native Duluth, Minn., the story carries distinct echoes of Thornton Wilder and John Steinbeck. At the same time, it feels rooted in the social and political concerns that have always informed Dylan’s writing.
“I’d happily listen to the cast album,” because the 20 Dylan songs are beautifully performed, said David Cote in New York’s Observer.com. But the usually great McPherson “seems to have ransacked every cliché he could find about American society between the wars and shoehorned them into a narrative that meanders without momentum.” We get a morphine-addicted doctor (Robert Joy), a preacher with something to hide (David Pittu), a pregnant young woman being pressured to marry (Kimberly Sprawl), and a landlord having an affair with a boarder (Jeannette Bayardelle) while his wife (Mare Winningham) battles dementia—“the special theatrical kind that allows moments of truth telling.” Midway through, the whole contraption “starts to buckle and derail into bathos.”
Still, Dylan’s songs “have never sounded quite so heartbreakingly personal and universal at the same time,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. “Moments I seem destined to recall forever include Winningham delivering ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ as a curse and ‘Forever Young’ as an elegy.” When Sprawl sings “Idiot Wind,” the song becomes “a philosophic half-acceptance of romantic attraction.” Movingly, “the show’s most heartbreaking moments are perhaps its happiest.” The second act opens with a jubilant performance of “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” complete with dancing, that reminds us of music’s power to bring people together and help them forget their individual sorrows. For a few minutes, “you might find yourself thinking that this is as close as mortals come to heaven on earth.”