By Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver/America Media
The River Bride is as delightfully entertaining as it fascinating. A bit of a Disney fairy-tale but more of Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water”. A story of folklore, love, resentment and regret. What a tangled web or in this case net we’ve weaved.
The story takes place in fishing village nestled deep along Brazilian Amazon River.
Folklore has it that river dolphins, or botos, at certain times, are transformed into human forms and come on shore to seduce the women of the village in hopes of finding true love and a wife. All within three days or they must return to their life of solitary.
Fishing is how the family in this story makes it’s living. The mother and father, Senhora & Senhor Costa, married after just a three day courtship and have been happily in love for more than 20 years raising two daughters Helena and Belmira. Senhor can’t remember anything about his life prior to meeting and falling in love with his wife.
The younger of the two daughters, Belmira is to be married in just three days. She is anxious not only for the wedding but for the opportunity to get out of that village and into a city downstream wher she dreams of a more fulfilling life. Duarte, her husband to be, is her ticket out. Belmira knows what she wants out of life and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it. An attribute she is very proud of.
Her older sister Helena is much more reserved and content with what life has given her and taken away, including love. She is somewhat subservient to her dominating younger sister giving in to whatever makes her happy.
Helena delights in feeding a particular dolphin that has strayed from the ocean down the murky waters of the Amazon tossing her father’s bait to the persistent dolphin . The two half jokingly talk about the folklore tale of the “boto”. “Stop feeding him”
Belimira tells her sister, “you’ll only encourage him to keep coming back”.
Just three days before the wedding their father and soon to be son in law are hauling in their catch for the day and for the wedding banquet when instead of fish they find a half drowned man in their net. The daughter’s nurse him back to health and find themselves captivated by the dapper man’s appearance and charming demeanor. They both want him. He says his name is Moises. Never mind Belmira is to be married soon she see more of what she wants in Moises and is determined to get what she wants. Helena also falls in love with him also but is careful to give her heart and is afraid of love given what has happened to her in the past. But what and who does Moises want, who does he love? What happened in Helena’s past that has her so afraid to love again?
All this takes place in the first few minutes of play. What follows will have you questioning your own perceptions of love and happiness. Of romance as well as of love lost and what could have been. As in real life the ending of this play may not be what you had hoped for or maybe it is. What does the adage say? Be careful what you wish for.
The acting is superb. Helena is played by Lara Gallegos, Belmira by Lliana Barron, Moises by Phil Luna, Duarte by Paul A. Zamora and the parents, Senhor & Senhora Costa by Felicia Gallegos Pettis and Angel Mendez Soto.
The set at Su Teatro is simple but effective. A dock, a doorway, and a cutaway house in the middle of the large video screen where lush images of the jungle and the river prevail. The production runs 90-minutes with a brief intermission.
“The River Bride,” is written by Mexican-American playwright Marisela Treviño Orta and directed by Hugo Jon Sayles. Orta is planning to follow up this play with two more installments in a “grim Latino fairy-tale cycle” inspired by Latin-American mythology. Next up is the Mesoamerican-flavored “Wolf at the Door,” which gets it world premiere next year at New Jersey Repertory Company.
I can hardly wait to see it come to Denver which Tony Garcia, Su Teatro’s Creative Director told the opening night audience is something we can all look forward to given the fact the Marisela Trevino Orta kicked off her career at Su Teatro with her play “Braided Sorrow” in 2008 and went on to win the 2009 PEN Center USA Literary Award in Drama.
“The River Bride” won Arizona Theatre Company’s National Latino Playwriting Award in 2013, then moved on to a world-premiere production last year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and now it is at Denver’s Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center at 721 Broadway. The play runs through March 25th. For tickets visit SuTeatro.org.