Marisela Treviño Orta’s Exotic Fairytale Unites Romance & Myth
by Patricia L. Morin
“The River Bride” enchants us with talented actors, intriguing lighting, and subtle music, set in a fishing port in the tropics. We are transported to a nameless village along the Amazon River in Brazil. Here, where folklore and reality meet, natives speak to dolphins and understand the tropical birds and distant thunderstorms.
Scenic Designer Giulio Cesare Peronne’s simple dock with posts and nautical ropes create a dreamlike air. With subtle lighting, sounds of water, and flashes of lightning, we can almost smell the salty air.
Playwright Marisela Treviño Orta’s folktale portrays the botos, river dolphins, who transform into men for only three days— to find their beloved. If they fail, legend has it, they live in solitude forever.
Orta shows two sisters tangled in a love story, but this isn’t your usual fairytale romance. The playwright is asking us questions, in her elegant prose: Would we risk changing our whole life for love? Or, take a perilous leap of faith?
Younger sister Belmira (irrepressible Bethany Regan) is about to marry to an easy-going, village-born fisherman named Duarte (hard-working Lorenzo Alviso). Belmira secretly longs to explore the world; she sees Duarte as her ticket out of the tiny village.
Her reticent elder sister Helena (pithy Lauren DePass) loves the river, the land, and the sounds of birds—but she also loves Duarte, her sister’s future husband. Even though they have a past together, Helena does not pursue Duarte. Belmira accuses her of being “motivated by fear and not desire,” marking the difference between them, and adding: “I’m not afraid to grab what I want.”
These sisters mirror the contrasting attitudes to risk-taking that many of us debate in personal anguish.
Helena delights in feeding a particular dolphin that has strayed from the ocean down the dark waters of the Amazon. She wonders about love and her own future. As she feeds the dolphin, she whispers, “If the river could put its mouth to my ear, what secrets it would impart.”
We are not surprised when their doting father Señor Costa (carefree Danial Villalva) and loyal Duarte haul Moises (powerful Terrance Smith) out of the river. Handsome Moises wears an expensive looking white suit, and exhibits a gentle nature. And he is whole-heartedly accepted by Señora Costa, (loving Jannely Calmell) who married Señor Costa in three days.
When Helena meets the enticing man from the sea, they clearly feel a magnetic attraction. She announces, “When our eyes met, I saw the reflection of myself.” Although she believes “Love must transform,” she is hesitant.
Belmira, upon meeting Moises, swoons over him, and envisions a yacht, and travel to faraway cities. Orta’s lyrical script and Moises’ ethereal persona invite us to dream with her.
Director Marty Pistone’s talented actors take on contemporary manners, unlike any Disney fairytale characters. There are no “good” or “bad” people, and no impending evil.
I recommend “The River Bride.” It is both enchanting and haunting, with characters that touch our own struggles. Is it worth taking world-shattering risks for love? The story twists and turns with a subtle, cliffhanger ending that will keep you wondering.
“The River Bride” by Marisela Treviño Orta, directed by Marty Pistone, set design by Giulio Cesare Peronne, lighting design by Luca Catanzaro, sound design by Nate Riebli, at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa, California. Info: 6thStreetPlayhouse – to Sunday, November 27, 2022.
Cast: Lorenzo Alviso, Jannely Calmell, Lauren DePass, Bethany Regan, Terrance Smith, and Daniel Villalva.
Banner photo: Daniel Villalva, Jannely Calmell, Lorenzo Alviso, Lauren DePass, and Bethany Regan