Into the Beautiful North

by Adam Brinklow

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday October 24, 2016

Vampi (Kitty Torres), Nayeli (Samanta Yunuen Cubias) and Tacho (Rudy Guerrero*) seek shelter for the night with (behind) Araceli (Leticia Duarte) and Porfirio (Richard Talavera) in their home atop the Tijuana dump
Vampi (Kitty Torres), Nayeli (Samanta Yunuen Cubias) and Tacho (Rudy Guerrero*) seek shelter for the night with (behind) Araceli (Leticia Duarte) and Porfirio (Richard Talavera) in their home atop the Tijuana dump  

The north in "Into the Beautiful North" isn't just a direction: It's an ideal, a muse, a half-realized but ever-enticing prize, and an identity everybody wants to wrap themselves in without quite knowing what it is.

See if you can follow the threads of this plot. Nayali (Samanta Yunuen Cubias) is a high school sweetheart type/karate master (she earned a brown belt down at the local gym) living in a rural Mexican town composed mostly of dust and neglect.

The play is ostensibly set in the present, but could happen anytime between 1927 and 1989 or so.

Almost all of the men folk have abandoned the village for work in America. Nayali, too, wants to head north; supposedly to get help about some gangsters, in a "The Magnificent Seven" motif that never really works, but mostly to find her father, who went to the US for a job and never came back.

If you're guessing that a quirky cast of indie-style misfits will accompany her... well, we weren't offering prizes, so you don't get anything. But you're right anyway.

Nayali's boss, seemingly the town's only gay man (Rudy Guerrero), comes along to broaden his horizons. Vampi, the resident goth girl (Kitty Torres), signs on just to be the self-described "third wheel."

There's an "As You Like It" vibe about the trio. They're looking to repatriate immigrants back to Mexico in an effort to restore a kind of natural balance to the country. Having been robbed of its citizens, Nayali's town seems to have lost its sense of being part of Mexico, and so have the people. (This pops up in a running joke about supposedly Mexican movie stars that are not actually Mexican at all.)

Along the way, the two girls and single gay man are constantly threatened by violent and insecure masculinity in the form of gangsters, soldiers, and bullies. The combination of "Old Spice and mirror shades" spells trouble.

Note that the beautiful Julia Morgan-designed City Club was never meant to be a theater, and is particularly poorly suited to simulating many small Mexican towns. But it's such a wonderful building we're always afraid to say anything, because we honestly don't want the company to ever leave, despite these problems.

As intentionally ridiculous as "The Beautiful North" may be, you become genuinely invested in wondering how the misfits will get by. Things like their dash across the border and run-ins with violence feel like real, daunting obstacles and sources of tension.

These things are the reason why "Beautiful North" wriggles out of the trap of being merely quirky and precocious. Mind you, there are WAY too many characters (every member of the ensemble plays a half dozen people at least), and many conflicts resolve themselves seemingly before they even appear (really, why is Vampi even here?).

But with bluster and gumption and some really hardworking performances, "Into the Beautiful North" eventually snowballs into something distinct, priceless and worthwhile. It's a mess, but it's a mess you can love.

"Into the Beautiful North" plays through Nov. 20 at the City Club, 2315 Durant Street in Berkeley. For tickets and information, call 510-558-1381 or go to