Into the Beautiful North

by Meg Currell

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday May 18, 2016

Into the Beautiful North

"Into the Beautiful North" at Milagro Theatre is an epic quest story unabashedly based on The Magnificent Seven. A young woman in a small town in Mexico decides to go to the United States to bring back her father from Kankakee, Illinois, and recruit six other men back to Mexico to save her town. In the process, she exposes the corruption of Mexican police, the quandary of the border crossing, modern dilemmas of poverty and technology failures, and along the way, discovers the person best-equipped to save the town is her.

Adapted by Karen Zacarias from the book "Into the Beautiful North" by Luis Alberto Urrea, the play follows a young woman of considerable grit, Nayeli, whose father left for a better life in America many years before. When Nayeli gets pushed around by "narcos" at her job at an internet café, and her boss' computer is confiscated, she decides it's time for action. With her best friend Vampi and café-owner Tacho, she hatches a plan.

The support of her aunt, whose recent election to mayor of the little town further spurred Nayeli's confidence in her plan, so she scrapes together meager resources and hits the road with Vampi and Tacho. An arduous bus ride takes them to Tijuana, where they encounter the chaos of the drug trade, prostitution, and the desperation of border crossing.

They crawl through a hole in the fence for the first attempt, and for the second attempt, follow a guide (Atomiko) through a tunnel. Tacho is arrested, but the others are allowed to go. Eventually, the remaining trio makes their way to San Diego, where they obtain a vehicle and head up to Illinois.

"Into the Beautiful North" covers a lot of ground. From poverty to corruption to misogyny to the power of being female, the play brings to life the extreme difficulty of life in Mexico, and the pride and determination of its citizens. "You don't think every Mexican has a hard-luck story?" With a touch of magic realism and a hint of madcap adventure, there is humor amid the grim circumstances, and celebration when Nayeli succeeds brilliantly in her plan to save the town.

Michelle Escobar plays Nayeli with enthusiasm and physicality. She leads her gang of misfits with purpose, conveying the charisma of a true leader. As her Tia Irma, Bunnie Rivera shines with easy confidence, every bit the leader setting an example for her niece. Vampi, played by Michelle Caughlin, is a quintessential brooding teen, clad completely in black.

The standout of the show for me was Anthony Green, who played Chava/Ensemble. Fluctuating between several accents and demeanors, Green has an intriguing ease onstage, a fluidity and timing that reminded me of Lou Costello.

This is a funny show, strange in its physicality, surprisingly brutal in its depiction of life in rural Mexico. It's also a show about finding who you are in the world, and how family is formed beyond the boundaries of genetics. Nayeli thinks the town needs men to save the day, but she is the hero; she thinks she needs her father, but discovers that family isn't genetics, it's the people who make you better just by being around you. As her aunt wisely advised, you "Choose the ones who will cheer for you to become the woman you want to be."

Milagro Theatre is bold, thought-provoking, unconventional storytelling in voices muted in our society. The company manages to tell a story unlike others you'll see in Portland, bringing to center marginalized perspectives. Of the many beautiful theatres in Portland, I hold a special place for the crucial work being done by Milagro.

"Into the Beautiful North" runs through May 28 at Milagro Theatre, 525 SE Stark St., Portland, OR, 97214. For tickets and information, call 503-236-7253 or go to

Meg Currell is a freelance author based in Portland, where she moved for the coffee and mountain views. With a background in literature and music, she explores dance, concerts and DIY with equal enthusiasm. She is currently at work on a collection of short stories.