The Girl From the North Country is a Play About Survival and Love

photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

The Girl From the North Country is set in Duluth, Minnesota (the home of Bob Dylan) in 1934 during the great depression in an old boarding house owned by the Laine family. Nick Laine is trying to keep the boarding house open but is dealing with his past demons. His wife Elizabeth mentally flows between the past, hearing voices, but at times has full clarity of her surroundings. Their son Gene is a would-be writer but is too full of alcohol to put things to paper. Then there is their adopted daughter Marianne who is Black and pregnant by some mysterious entity.

  The people staying at the Boarding house are characters within themselves. I did have so many questions (in a good way) leaving the theater that I was happy to speak to Carla Woods who plays Mrs. Neilsen and Hosea Mundi who understudies Elias Burke and Joe Scott to help me figure it out.

Hosea Mundi summed it up in a nutshell for me.

L-R Ben Biggers, Sharaé Moultrie, Jennifer Blood and John Schiappa in the GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY North American Tour (photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

“It focuses on three different things. The main one is the Lane family and how they’re struggling to maintain the hotel and the whole Elizabeth illness situation going on within the hotel as well. Then you have the Burkes coming to play and their son with a disability that they introduce to the audience. And then you have another layer with Joe Scott and Marianne Vance who fall in love. I think that they’re figuring out being the first two black people that you see on stage and their love chemistry, and then living in this space together and you have this heated tension. There’s just so much going on, but it all ties together so well.”

Sharaé Moultrie and Matt Manuel in the GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY North American tour (photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

 Mrs. Neilson is a widow waiting for her husband’s pension, she also takes care of Elizabeth and is having an affair with Nick.  I asked Carla about the backstory of Mrs. Neilson as she is one of the main characters that ties things up.

“… So, she’s been there for six months, and she’s developed a relationship with the family, helping to care for Elizabeth a lot.  And they develop a relationship and then she has a relationship with her husband as well. But I do feel like that’s kind of a survival tactic as a black woman during that time just trying to survive. She was probably looking for someone to be her spokesperson in this situation and trying to find a new life for herself.”

The play can be a little confusing as, while the songs are beautifully sung, they sometimes don’t fit in with the action that is taking place on stage. Speaking of singing, the voices and musical talent of the cast are outstanding.  Carla explained. “I think it’s because Conor (McPherson writer and director) is trying to take us out of the actual play and into the music. You notice how sometimes the play would be going in one direction and then the song would come. He’d be like, “Wait, that doesn’t really…” Yeah. And that’s part of it. The story he says is the vinegar, and the music he says is the honey. So, I think that it’s a way for us to separate the two and for the audience to see the separation.”

Carla Woods who plays Mrs. Neilsen, Bonnie DeShong, and Hosea Mundi who understudies Elias Burke and Joe Scott

When you put everything all together with the music of Bob Dylan performed in ways that make them sound new and fresh, you have an amazing evening at the theater.

The Girl From the North Country is playing at the Broadway in Chicago CIBC Theatre through February 25th

I give it 4 winks of the EYE!

Until next time keep your EYE to the sky!