By David Dixon
Numerous theatrical adaptations of popular novels —“Frankenstein,” “War Horse” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” for example — were all successfully brought to the stage.
In the same vein, a live interpretation of Luis Alberto Urrea’s 2009 book, “Into the Beautiful North,” is now playing at the San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Lyceum Stage.
In the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, conflict begins early on as almost every man in the Mexican village, Tres Camarones, leaves for a better life in the United States.
After they go, bandidos plan to rule the town. Determined to save her community, Nayeli (Kenia Ramirez) leaves with her friends, Vampi (Jennifer Paredes) and Tacho (Bryant Hernandez). Her goal is to find men in the U.S. who can protect Tres Camarones from the evil criminals.
Their journey takes the unlikely heroes to places like San Diego, parts of Tijuana, and Illinois.
Many different elements, including Ian Wallace’s detailed set and projections, are used to present the numerous locations used in the script.
Sam Woodhouse, co-founder and artistic director of the San Diego Rep, uses all the visuals to expand the scope of playwright Karen Zacarias’ narrative.
“It’s an international quest that covers over 59,037 miles,” he said. “The show is an extremely epic one with music, combat and dancing.”
An aspect about the piece that Woodhouse feels theatergoers will relate to is getting to see so much of the action take place near Horton Plaza. Nayeli, Vampi and Tacho cross the border fairly close to Downtown two times.
During the evening, taco storeowner Tacho gets to experience many significant moments. Hernandez respects that Zacarias gives his character plenty of depth.
“As an openly gay human being, Tacho has to go through so much to be comfortable with who he is,” he said. “Tacho really is a parental figure to Nayeli and Vampi. He’s a strong character.”
What Woodhouse loves about Tacho is his proud personality.
Nayeli’s traveling companion has a good sense of humor, can stand up to others, and is comfortable with his sexuality.
Most of the scenes balance satirical elements with serious situations.
Finding the right tone is fun for Woodhouse, since it allows the night to be realistic and relatable.
Given the subject matter, the adventure features plenty of aspects that are guaranteed to stick with audiences.
As for Woodhouse, he enjoys the diversity of the Hispanic roles. Five performers get to play several different people with no shortage of humanity.
“You don’t ever get to see so much diversity and breadth of Mexican characters,” he said.
In addition to the variety of people that Nayeli encounters, Woodhouse respects the growth she goes through.
“This is the story of a young girl who discovers her power as a woman,” he said. “She develops from a normal 19-year-old girl to one who becomes the heroine of her own voyage.”
Responsible for Nayeli’s arc in the drama is Zacarias herself. She has won numerous accolades and many of her scripts have been produced in the United States. Woodhouse isn’t sure if he will direct anything from her soon, but the storyteller plans on continuing to read and watch her latest projects.
Woodhouse and Hernandez agree that fans of the source material won’t be disappointed by the organization’s rendition.
“It’s pretty cool to enjoy a rich plot in two different mediums,” Woodhouse said.
“You get to see Urrea’s world brought to life,” Hernandez said.
Meant to entertain while maintaining a high IQ, Nayeli’s expedition should be a strong close to the venue’s 41st season. You have never been on a road trip quite like this one.
—A fan of film and theater from a very young age, David Dixon has written reviews and features for various print and online publications. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.