16th Street Theater Presents INTO THE BEAUTIFUL NORTH Review—Lite-Hearted Romp Thru Border Terrors

16th Street Theater Hosts National New Play Network Premiere

Yet again the brilliant National New Play Network brings an imaginative new play to Chicago as part of a rolling world premiere. (Read about another recent Chicago National New Play Network premiere here.)

Into the Beautiful North comes from the pen of Mexican-born playwright Karen Zacarías, whose work Chicagoans were also recently treated to, Destiny of Desire, at the Goodman. It is based on the novel of the same name by award winning border-born author Luis Alberto Urrea. In turn, this almost fairy tale like story takes inspiration and reference points from the film The Magnificent Seven, which itself was a re-imagining of the classic Japanese Kurosawa film Seven Samarai.

Talented Cast - Comic Shtick

When you meet the heroine of the story, Nayeli (played by Ilse Zacharias) and her force of nature aunt Irma (played by Laura Crotte) it’s good to know or remember that Mexico gave women the right to vote long before it came to be in the USA. Nayeli has a brown belt in karate and her no nonsense Aunt is running for Mayor. When bad men come to town, harassing Nayeli and her good gay friend and owner of the cantina she works in, Tacho (played by Esteban Andres), events are set in motion to save their town from the drug cartel and to bring back the men, who have largely left for Estados Unidos in search of work.

For some of us, Nayeli’s bright sox, sunny disposition and I-can-do-anything attitude will remind more of that Swedish born icon, Pippi Longstocking. She, like her bestie Vampi (played by Allyce Torres) who is a Goth poster girl, have that orphan-girls-can-do-anything moxie. Nayeli though is not quite an orphan, and sets out to find her father in faraway Kankakee with Vampi and Tacho in tow. Her father, she imagines, will be the first of her Magnificent Seven to bring her town of Three Shrimps (Tres Camarones) back to life and out of the bad men’s grip.

This odyssey to, under, and through the border wall and into Estados Unidos is also inhabited by dozens of characters—both male and female—brought to life with great charm and whimsy by four other talented actors who round out the cast (Miguel Nuñez, Brandon Rivera, Andrés Enriquez, and Juan Munoz). Their talent and playful spirits ooze from the stage and carry us through the romp that is the script. It’s FUN! And if one of your favorite things in the world is watching good actors get campy with shtick, you may also taste ecstasy. Know that if you are not already laughing out loud, you sure will be when the story arrives at a scene between Nuñez and Crotte that conflates passion and bowling.

Tragedy Below Comic Patina

A warning of sorts---for some of us who have trouble compartmentalizing, the crush of today’s politics vis-à-vis immigration and the real-world impact of the drug lords on everyday life in Central America will sneak into your consciousness even though neither the script nor the book are geared to get you there.   This writer, just a few days before, had reviewed an emotional dance, Catracho, by Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre that burrows into the pain of these topics, rather than distract with humor. Then again, leading lady Zacharias who hails from Brownsville and counts many Dreamers among her friends steers you right with her gratitude that this expose is being staged.

Read Zacharias’ Quick Comments on Into the Beautiful North here.

Co-Directors Ann Filmer and Miguel Nuñez, along with a talented production team have unleashed this adroit cast to inject this lite-hearted script about a serious subject with unbound mirth. Go to enjoy that and then let full-frontal digestion of the tragedy at its core come later.


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves


Now through June 17

Thursdays & Fridays @ 7:30 PM
Saturdays @ 4:00 & 8:00 PM


16th Street Theater
6420 16th Street




General Admission: $22, Berwyn Residents: $18   Group Ticket Discounts for 8+

Online – www.16thstreettheater.org

By Phone – (708) 795-6704

In Person – at North Berwyn Park District, 1619 Wesley Ave., Berwyn


Photos:  Anthony Aicardi


Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.

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