Chicago Theatre Review
Into the Beautiful North – 16th Street Theatre
There’s a moment at the top of Into The Beautiful North when Nayeli (Ilse Zacharias) a start-eyed optimist, home-town-girl, karate brown-belt and guide through our upcoming odyssey, blows a fistful of paper butterflies into the faces of two wicked men (Miguel Nuñez and Andres Enríquez, in the first of a bevy of well pitched roles) as they discuss the merits of Kanye West. It’s a sweet and resonant opening note in a play that will prove both delightful and dangerous.
Based on the novel of the same name by Luis Alberto Urrea, Into The Beautiful North is a story of hope and perseverance against a hard world; an old story become new again. Tres Camarones, Nayeli’s beloved home town, is beset by a pair of bandits, in this iteration Narcos corrupted by authority. The men of the town, including Nayeli’s father (Juan Munoz), have crossed the border into the United States, searching for better life but leaving their home undefended. Inspired by the Magnificent Seven and guided by her enterprising aunt Irma (Laura Crotte), our heroine sets off to cross the border and bring back seven strong, noble, preferably Mexican warriors, aided by her boon companions Tacho (Esteban Andres Cruz) the town gay and Vampi (Allyce Torres) the town vampire. Those familiar with playwright Karen Zacarías’s Destiny of Desire (wrapping up at the Goodman) will recognize her style of whimsy with a social conscience, taking Urrea’s story for a gleeful spin. It’s all fun and games until our heroes run into figures of authority or victims of poverty, on either side of the border, when matters become very serious indeed.
In the tiny house of the Sixteenth Street Theater co-director Nuñuz and Ann Filmer have embraced showing us the wires that make the magic happen. The rough, corrugated movables and blue painted horizons of Joanna Iwanicka’s stage open and rotate and unfold to show us the myriad locations but more often than not it is, “Your thinking caps that crown their kings.” We swoop and swerve from the life threatening to the side-tickling, and if the action veers a little toward cartoonish and disneyfied, it never loses it’s head or its heart.
The whole cast pulls together gliding from part to part, from mood to mood with joyful ease. Especial mention must go to Cruz and Torres, who compliment each other so well; his zest and panache balanced with a cutting straightforwardness offset by her coiled-up cynicism. Crotte too astounds, vibrating with Irma’s energy as a small town politician still wearing the laurel crown of her champion bowling days. Crotte has presence, but uses it as a foundation for wild and uproarious mischief.
It’s all brought together of course by Zacharias’s Nayeli (indeed you have to squint to see past her brightness) channeling the optimism of the story, that good people can be found out there, that there are things still worth fighting for. Into the Beautiful North is about the surprises to be found in people. It’s hilarious, and gripping and wonderfully odd but by the end you can feel your heart truly warmed. Ready to be delighted all over again by a fistful of butterflies. And what a wonderful end of an evening that is.
By Ben Kemper
16th Street Theater
6420 16th St. Berwyn IL
Accessible from Ridgeland Ave Green Line Stop via Pace Bus 314.
Thursday and Friday at 7:30 Saturday at 4:00 and 8:00
$22 general admission $18 low income.
(Most shows sold out so hurry!)
For more information about this and other productions visit theaterinchicago.com.