Friday, April 29, 2016

Into the Beautiful North—Milagro—SE Portland


Imaginary Borders & Impossible Dreams

This comedy-drama is adapted to the stage by Karen Zacarias from a novel by Luis Alberto Urrea.  It is directed by Olga Sanchez (Artistic Director, Emerita) and Daniel Jáquez.  It is playing at their site, 525 SE Stark St. (street parking is a challenge, so plan your time accordingly), through May 28th.  For more information, go to their site at www.milagro.org or call 503-236-7253.

We probably have all felt the need to be saved, at one time or another, at one point in our lives.  The traditional model might go back as far as early Man, with the Hunter/Gatherers caste system, where roles where defined as to who were the protectors, the males, and who would keep the home fires burning, the females.  Medieval times chose to have castles and knights and fair damsels and dragons, to add to this complicated mix.  And then some years ago we had the dastardly villain and the meek maiden needing rescuing by the brave hero in the white hat….

But that was then, this is now!  In this modern scenario, the hero is a female, and a young one at that, that knows hand-to-hand combat and will not put up with bullying (young ladies, take notice).  Nayeli (Michelle Escobar) is a resident of a small Mexican town that is overrun by corrupt officials and drug lords.  She finds sympathy from her tough-talking, Tia Irma (Bunnie Rivera), who is also the mayor.  She also finds support from her best friends, Vampi (Michelle Caughlin), a vampire-like vixen and her gay friend, and boss at the café where she works, Tacho (Danny Moreno).

After seeing the film, The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli and her two buddies decide to venture up North to the United States, to find seven brave and true men who will rescue their town from these evil-doers.  Of course, they have little money and no passports and really have no idea where they are actually going, but that doesn’t stop them.  Their one goal is to find her father, who has been gone for some years, in the Great Lakes region of the U.S.  And they do remember a Missionary Matt (Romeo Ceasar), a gringo, who Nayeli has a crush on, from a visit when he was here, who lives in San Diego.  But there Odyssey will take many unexpected twists and turns before they reach their destination.

They will spend a night in the town dump, where they are greeted by the first of their “magnificent” men, an eccentric vagabond and street fighter named, Atómiko (Anthony Lam), who also knows the secret to getting across the border.  But along their perilous journey, they will meet up with some nasty Mexican border guards and one, somewhat sympathetic, American one; be separated at times; find hatred and kindness in small-town America; find another, “magnificent” man, in the desert, the wandering Angel (Carlos Manzano); reunite an old flame, Chava (Anthony Green), with a familiar face; and eventually find her Quest, only to discover it may have all just be a wonderful, impossible dream of hers all along.

I can’t tell you all the details, as that is a journey of discovery the audience must make with them.  But I will tell you that, not unlike Dorothy’s journey to Oz, what you have been seeking may have been in your own backyard all the time.  But, to learn that, one must make that trip over the rainbow.  I think everyone can glean something of value from this united safari into the unknown.  And know that Courage is only a word, if written in ink.  When dipped into one’s heart and written in blood, it becomes something quite unstoppable!  Youth, take note!

This is a play that sneaks up on you.  It begins quite innocently enough and you think you know where it’s going, but then it takes some sharp turns and ends up being more like a fable or parable, in which one can be entertained but also learn some important life lessons in the process.  The directors have done well by keep the setting simple and letting the actors flesh out the story, so that one’s imagination is challenged and becomes part of the vehicle in envisioning it (not like today’s films, in which there C/G effects spell out everything for us, allowing our imaginations to atrophy…but don’t get me started on that).  Also, the stylized fight scenes by Kristen Mun are very well done, as well as the video backgrounds by Andres Alcalá.

Anyway, it is refreshing to observe a talented ensemble relate a tale in a storytelling fashion, in which an audience is allowed to participate.  And most of the cast plays more than one role and are quite good in them, if they are just a few seconds long.  I especially liked Green in the many incarnations he creates and all very specific and captivating.  Lam was a scream, playing such an offbeat character even more offbeat.  You like his mad man even if you don’t understand him.  Moreno does justice to his creation by playing a gay man, who is quite admirable and someone who would be proud to have as a friend.  And Escobar, as the fiery heroine, is a gem.  She not only is able to impart a strong female character, who  appears able to take on all comers, but also has a sensuality that is quite appealing to a guy with any sense.  She is a perfect role-model for young ladies of today.

I recommend and applaud this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.