UCSB’s final play before the summer is a hero’s journey up and over the border
INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH
When: 8 p.m. tonight through June 1
Where: UCSB’s Hatlen Theater
Cost: $20- $12
Information: theaterdance.ucsb.edu or 805-893-2064
In the beginning there was Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai”. And the “Seven Samurai” begat “The Magnificent Seven” and that begat “Into the Beautiful North,” the novel by Luis Alberto Urrea, which was then adapted into a play by Karen Zacarias. And that already winding journey leads us to this brand new production out at UCSB, directed by returning guest director Shirley Jo Finney. The show opens tonight and runs through June 1.
“I was taken with this play because it has heart,” says Finney. “It’s a combination of the hero’s journey and Alice in Wonderland. It’s about identity and a young girl breaking down walls and borders from within. It’s also about community.”
It’s also the first time the author has let a university put on a production, which just happens to be age appropriate. “Into the Beautiful North” tells the story of young woman Nayeli (played by Kerry Jacinto), who leaves her town in Sinaloa, Mexico for the United States. But not for the usual reasons. Instead, she brings with her Vampi (Kat Cleave), her goth best friend, and Tacho (RJ Enrique) the owner of a gay bar, to find a magnificent seven Mexican men to bring back to her town and defend it from drug dealers.
“Our cast is a wonderful united ensemble,” Finney says. “And a lot identify with these stories of borders, and families, and immigration.”
Many are first generation Americans, some still immigrants from all over the world, but all aware of the sacrifices their parents and families made. Some are the first in their families to attend university. Rehearsals have led to some fascinating discussions.
“We have a basic human need to feel safe, and because of social media, the headlines, and everyday micro and macro aggressions, that became a huge topic,” says Finney. “If you think the adults are going crazy at this point…these students want to know who they are and where they fit.”
Finney last came to UCSB five years ago to direct “In the Red Brown Water,” and was invited back, as she says, because the play fit her style–a minimalist attitude.
For a novel inspired by two films, there’s a lot of the cinematic in this story, and the play keeps a lot of that intact, though stripped down on stage to “two staircases, two tables, seven chairs, and not much else.” Urrea’s story is magic realism, and that adapts well for the stage, where anything can be conjured up.
“I like a play to be like reading a novel, where your imagination paints the pictures for you. Through minimal space and light, the audience creates the world…It asks what you can create in your own world.”
Working with students is special because you are both teaching but guiding her cast. There isn’t the onus of reviews or box office, but a more personal outcome. “What is it that you want your artist to learn from a particular production and what you want them to take out into the world.”
The lesson might also be in the play: “It’s the hero’s journey,” she says, “when you go outside of yourself and conquer or sacrifice for the greater good, those are the stories people are attracted to.”