I should have cared. I should have been fully invested in the depression era tale about Nick Laine (Jay O. Sanders), his wife, Elizabeth (Mare Winningham), and the visitors that inhabit their Duluth, Minnesota boarding house. And yet, after 2 1/2 seemingly endless hours at the Belasco Theatre, all I really cared about was leaving.
I had heard rumblings about Girl from the North Country when it premiered at London’s Old Vic in 2017. The buzz from across the pond suggested that it would be a must-see when it came to New York. In 2018, it touched down at the Public Theater and opened to enthusiastic raves. Due to scheduling issues, I was unable to catch that limited run so I entered this new Broadway iteration with high hopes.
With a book by Conor McPherson (who also directed), and music and lyrics by the legendary Bob Dylan, Girl from North Country boasts a stellar creative team. Sadly, almost everything about it feels like something you’ve already seen. The narrator, Dr. Walker (Robert Joy), is a cross between O’Neill’s Mary Tyrone and the narrator from Wilder’s Our Town. Masters’ Spoon River Anthology is evoked in the ghost of Elias Burke (Todd Almond), the intellectually challenged son of Mr. and Mrs. Burke (Marc Kudisch and Luba Mason) who, incidentally, are a milder version of Albee’s George and Martha.
In the words of Madonna, “I’ve seen it all before.”
This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t some fine moments here. Musically, there is much to admire, especially when it comes to the raw vocal interpretations of Dylan’s poetic lyrics. They are further enhanced by Mark Henderson‘s haunting lighting design which imparts some indelible images. But with so many recycled and cliched tropes, it’s difficult to glean any sense of truthfulness from these characters.
Certainly, there are those who will disagree. Girl From The North Country has been hailed by fellow critics as a “revelation” and “heaven on earth.” Perhaps they are die-hard Dylan fans. Or, they aren’t nearly as heartless. Either way, my personal hope as we start the spring theater season, is to discover a more celestial selection.
Girl From the North Country is on Broadway at the Belasco Theatre (111 West 44th Street between Broadway and 6th) For tickets and information, click here.