TR Robertson..Twists, turns and adventure abound in the latest production at the Lyceum, in San Diego Repertory Theatre’s presentation of “Into the Beautiful North”. Written by Karen Zacarias, based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Luis Alberto Urrea, “Into the Beautiful North” is making its world premiere and the last play of the 41st season of the San Diego Rep.
Zacarias mixes humor, tension, racism, violence, politics, cultural identity, stereotypes, love, friendship and more in a most unusual tale of a young Mexican girl’s dream of saving her town from the Narcos. Led by newcomer to the San Diego Rep stage, Kenia Ramirez, as 19 year old Nayeli, the audience is led on a fast paced journey from the small, sleepy Mexican town of Tres Camarones to Tijuana and the border fence to San Diego to, of all places, Kanakee, Illinois and back to the Bahia Hotel in San Diego.
Tres Camarones, “The Three Shrimps”, is going through changes. They are being overrun with Narcos who want to use the town for their illegal trade, the town is devoid of many of the men as most have left to find work in the United States, businesses are closing and the town is involved in an election for Mayor. San Diego Rep veteran, Catalina Maynard, plays Nayeli’s aunt Irma, who is seeking to become the first woman Mayor of the town. Nayeli and her friends, Vampi, played by another San Diego Rep veteran Jennifer Paredes, and Tacho, played by Bryant Hernandez, help Irma campaign and win the election. Tacho runs the local bar and Vampi proclaims to now be a Goth vampire. Hernandez provides a number of humorous moments as well as some scenes where he finds himself in some tense, violent situations.
Photos by San Diego Rep
Part of Irma’s desire is for Nayeli to bring men back to Tres Camarones to help rid the town of the Narcos and Nayeli sees this as a chance to find her father who is now in Kanakee, Illinois, working. The group sees the Western classic, “The Magnificent Seven”, starring Yul Brenner, an idea is born and the three friends, with Irma blessing, set off on a bus for Tijuana, with the idea of getting help in getting across the border into the United States.
Along the way, the three friends first encounter hostility from corrupt Mexican Federal Police. Taco is accosted for his gay identity, their belongings are stolen and they arrive in TJ down on their luck. In Tijuana, the three amigos will encounter the mean streets of the city, the slums and dump of the city and they will run into the boisterous, over-the-top, staff wielding “super hero”, Atomiko, played by another San Diego Rep veteran, Jorge Rodriguez. Rodriguez also plays Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, who humorously appears in Nayeli’s dreams.
A series of misadventures finds the friends getting picked up by border patrol agents, Tacho being accused of being a terrorist and being man-handled by the agents, and the group is separated. Tacho actually ends up better off than the rest of the group when he runs into a man in a gay bar who can help him. Nayeli and the others sneak across in a tunnel and travel to San Diego to find Missionary Matt. Along the way, Nayeli begins to realize she is starting to recruit men willing to return to Mexico to help the town. She will finally reach Illinois, but will not find the father she thought she would, but she does find another recruit. The play ends with Nayeli and her friends back in San Diego, along with Mayor Irma, and a chance to fulfill their dream of returning to Tres Camarones.
The stylized play uses video screens, a revolving stage and our imagination to create the various situations the trip to the United States will involve. A great supporting cast each plays a number of roles for the play. Herbert Siguenza, San Diego Rep Playwright-in-Residence and founding member of Culture Clash, plays Pepe/Garcia-Garcia/Porfirio/Officer Arnie/Rigoberto. Xavi Moreno, making his debut for San Diego Rep, plays a Narco/a Border Patrol Agent/Angel and Javier Guerrero, also making his San Diego Rep debut, plays Missionary Matt and a Border Patrol Agent.
The play touches on various stereotypes, including those people have about the United States, “In the United States they do whatever they want”, one of the friends says. Tacho gets sick to his stomach and blames it on “fast food hamburger revenge”. The trouble the group finds themselves in finds one of them remarking, “If you are born a 10 penny nail, you can’t curse the hammer”. And the main plot of the play, bringing Mexican men back to Mexico willingly, causes the Border Patrol agent to remark; “You want to go north to bring Mexicans back? That’s the most original story I’ve heard”.
Novelist Luis Alberto Urrea is a Mexican-American poet, novelist and essayist. He has degrees from UCSD and the University of Colorado and has taught at Harvard and the University of Colorado. He currently teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Urrea won the Western Book Award and the American Book Award and in 2000 was voted into the Latino Literature Hall of Fame. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, The Devil’s Highway. Playwright Karen Zacarias is the founder of Young Playwrights’ Theatre and has written award winning plays, such as “The Book Club Play and “Legacy of Light”.
Assisting in the production of the play were Scenic and Projection Designer Ian Wallace, Costume Designer Jennifer Brawn Gittings, Lighting Designer Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz and Sound Designer Matt Lescault-Wood.
In a world filled with news about walls and border issues, drugs, illegals, and hostility, “Into the Beautiful North”, presents both a look at what most people will never see and a twist on what we occasionally see in the news with the border incidents. “Into the Beautiful North” will play until April 23rd at the Lyceum Space at 29 Horton Plaza in San Diego. Tickets range from $38 to $65 and can be obtained by calling 619-544-1000 or go to www.sdrep.org