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Broadway Q&A: Mare Winningham of ‘Girl From the North Country’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

Winningham on the new Dylan musical: “This play is a deep well.”

Mare Winningham is part of a knock-out cast in Girl From the North Country. She stars as Elizabeth Laine, the troubled wife of a rooming house proprietor. She first played the role Off-Broadway at The Public Theater, where the musical was a sold-out hit. Winningham was nominated for a Lucille Lortel Award for that performance. This devastatingly beautiful musical was written and directed by celebrated playwright Conor McPherson, with music and lyrics by Bob Dylan, Girl From the North Country is set at a flophouse during the Depression era in Duluth, Minnesota. Its residents are trying to navigate their complicated world and survive. The show is playing at The Belasco Theatre, and officially opens March 5. A two-time Emmy-winning actress, Winningham has been nominated for an Academy Award, a Tony and eight Emmys. Her career, which also includes recording albums as a singer/songwriter, has spanned for four decades. Some of her stage credits include Casa Valentina, Rancho Viejo, Her Requiem, Picnic and Tribes.

Mare Winningham plays Elizabeth Laine in ‘Girl From the North Country’ (Photo: ‘Girl From the North Country’)

Mare Winningham plays Elizabeth Laine in ‘Girl From the North Country’ (Photo: ‘Girl From the North Country’)

How did you first hear about Girl From the North Country?
Mare Winningham: Two or three years ago, just after the new year, I was in London and walked past the marquee. I saw the title and beautiful photograph with these wonderful depression-era costumes. I thought, “Whaaaat is going on? There’s a Bob Dylan musical!” I saw Conor McPherson’s name, and I have always been a great admirer of his plays. I kind of lost it right there on the spot. Then I found out that the show was coming to the United States. I was nervous from that point until my audition.

What went through your mind when you got cast?
MW: The show encompasses everything I dreamt of having or hoped for: a great part in a brilliant play, with a genius writer/director and music from the greatest musician and songwriter. It’s in a folk rock realm, and means so much to me to sing with others. Girl From the North Country is all my jam.

What qualities does your character, Elizabeth Laine, have that you adore?
MW: What don't I love about her? Elizabeth Laine is a wonder. She is moving in and out of realities. In some ways, she is like the songs. She has one foot in this world, and one foot in some other world. It's a joy to work on the part in the room. As the creator, Conor is constantly messing with her. He sees ghosts and things that she sees. He leads me in many directions.

And now Jay (O. Sanders) and I have a family unit with Kimber (Elayne Sprawl), playing our daughter, and Colton (Ryan), playing our son. We are getting time to explore the family stuff in the rehearsal hall for this coming run. This play is a deep well. You can carve and carve, and dig and dig, and lower yourself further and further down. It's endlessly interesting.

When did you first discover the music of Bob Dylan?
Bob Dylan was a part of my childhood and/or all my teenage years and onward. His records were on the record player. The record "Blood On The Tracks" was a big, big deal for me. I lived with that record day in, day out. Before that, my younger brother continues to be obsessed with Bob Dylan.

So I heard all the records, including bootleg stuff – sorry, Mr. Dylan. I know the catalog well, and was sort of surprised when I saw the songs that Conor chose. We all feel connected to these songs and you think, “Which ones would I choose?” Then I got turned on to more of the eighties stuff that I didn't know that much.

What was one of the first Broadway shows you ever saw?
MW: When I was in high school in the San Fernando Valley, our drama class came to New York. We saw seven plays in six days. I believe the first one was The Glass Menagerie with Maureen Stapleton and Rip Torn. We also saw A Chorus Line, Chicago, Pippin and Saturday Sunday Monday. It was quite a trip.

For more of the best of Broadway this season, check out our list of The 15 Most Highly Anticipated Broadway Shows of 2020

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