Taken to the River

The set is the star of the show in ‘River Bride’

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Vanessa Lopez unwisely considers trading her groom for a dude caught in a fishing net in atmospheric College of Marin production. Robin Jackson photo.

Marisela Treviño Orta’s River Bride returns to Marin County as the season opener for the College of Marin’s drama program. Last seen in a bare-bones production in a vacant San Rafael storefront courtesy of Alter Theater, Orta’s play is an interesting combination of a Brazilian folk tale and an M. Night Shyamalan film script by way of a Twilight Zone episode.

The River Bride is set in a small fishing village along the Amazon River. Belmira (Vanessa Lopez), a young village girl, is whiling away the days until her wedding to Duarte (Ricardo May-Tep). She longs to see the ocean and the big city, and sees marriage as way to escape from the village.

While fishing for a catch to serve at the wedding banquet, Duarte and Belmira’s father, Sr. Costa (Deivi Velasquez), find an unconscious man—fully clothed in a Panama suit and with a bandaged head—entangled in their net. They bring him back to their village where, after being revived, he identifies himself as Moises (Justin Marx.) Moises soon sets his eye on Belmira’s older sister Helena (Raysheina de Leon-Ruhs). Helena, at first hesitant and wary of the mysterious Moises, soon finds herself reciprocating his feelings.

Moises wishes to get married immediately—as a matter of fact, he must be married in three days. Helena, however, has always deferred to her younger sister and does not wish to intrude on her day. Belmira, who has always taken what she wants, soon sees a better opportunity in a life with Moises. She should be careful what she wishes for, as she will indeed soon see the ocean.

It’s a terrific looking and sounding production, with the small studio theater transformed into a riverside village with an eye-popping set design by Ron Krempetz. The theater resonates with the sounds of the river, the nearby jungle and the music of the village, courtesy the design work of Billie Cox.

The combination of director Molly Noble’s deliberate pacing and some of the cast’s monotone delivery makes the 80-minute show feel much longer. Sometimes silence is golden, but there are moments in this production where it comes off as leaden. Lopez and Juji Johnson (as the girls’ mother) bring the energy and stand out among the small cast.

The River Bride is a fable about love that, while well-served by the technical elements provided by a traditional theater setting, too often lacks passion.

‘The River Bride’ runs through Oct. 14 at the College of Marin Studio Theatre, 835 College Ave., Kentfield. Friday–Saturday, 7:30pm; Sunday, 2pm. $10–$20. 415.485.9385. pa.marin.edu.

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