Theatre's got a brand new bag: It's a crop of songs by none other than Bob Dylan. The Nobel Prize Winner's songbook is beautifully integrated in playwright Conor McPherson's musical drama, "Girl From The North Country." It's an unusual work in a stirring production that's bound to get under your skin.
It's set in a very specific time and place, Duluth, Minnesota, 1934, during the Great Depression. McPherson, who also directed, presents a disjointed narrative populated by a clash of characters in a boarding house living on the edge, and they're not all that likable. These are desperate times, jobs are non-existent, money is scarce, racism is rampant, and people do what they must to survive.
The work requires an emotional investment that's not easy at first. But thanks to Dylan's searing poetry, featured in some 20 songs, McPherson's brutally honest portraits and a talent pool that's miles deep, the humanity shines through warts and all.
Nick Laine is the hard-working proprietor in a loveless marriage to Elizabeth, a smart, truth-telling woman who's slipping mentally. Their son is surly, and their daughter, taken in as a baby, is now pregnant. Their guests include a good-natured widow, an ex-con boxer, a crooked Bible salesman, and a once prosperous couple and their mentally disabled son.
Every member of this large ensemble, including onstage musicians, is sublime. They're all triple and quadruple threats, singing divinely one minute, playing an instrument the next and acting their hearts out.
I have to single out Sydney James Harcourt, Marc Kudisch, Luba Mason, Stephen Bogardus, and Mare Winningham, whose exquisite rendition of "Like A Rolling Stone" is just chilling. A very special mention is also due for orchestrator/arranger Simon Hale, who amps up Dylan's soulful tunes to a profound new dimension.
Dylan's timeless songs transcend the ages. What he wrote decades ago evoke the plaintive yearnings and sorrows of the much earlier Depression years. But they're just as resonant now, in this show, summoning the same hopes and fears that haunt our dreams today.