BWW Review: INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH at UCSB Department Of Theatre
The issue of immigration, which has been a evolving in tandem with socio-political events throughout history, is a currently hard-hit point of contention for a divided American populace. UCSB's Into the Beautiful North (by Karen Zacarias, directed by Shirley Jo Finney) explores a broader cross-section of this issue than the simplistic "bad hombres" storyline offered by the U.S. administration. The narrative follows three young people disillusioned with their life in small town Tres Camarones along the Baja coast. Much of the male population of this working-class town has deserted to seek work in the United States, leading to big changes, including a female mayor (Roz Cornejo) who aims to create better opportunities for women by filling them into the workplace void. She raises her niece, Nayeli (Kerry Jacinto), to be hardy and resourceful.
Nayeli takes action when she and her friend Tacho (RJ Enriquez) are threatened by cartel thugs. Inspired by the film The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli, who's naïve but determined, along with emo-goth "Vampy" (Kate Cleave) and the enjoyably extra Tacho, journey north to seek seven champions to defend Tres Camarones. The trio has little to guide their search beyond a postcard sent by Nayeli's father from Kankakee, Illinois; and the knowledge that the journey over the border and a mission through the U.S. as undocumented travellers will be perilous. They contend with corrupt Mexican officials, the seedy underbelly of Tijauna, coyotes, tunnels, fence holes, and deportation by American border patrol--all of which stand between them and American soil.
A second set of challenges awaits them in California as they navigate the luxuries and disappointments of American culture. It's an upbeat piece that brushes against self-awareness without being preachy by providing likable characters in stylized peril and a timely, critical point of view expressing a different side of the "border crisis." The cast hits the comedic notes and sustains the eagerness that fuels the journey, making Into the Beautiful North entertaining and optimistic--a fulfilling season-ender for the UCSB department of theater.