Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The River Bride
Arizona Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Newsies and A New Brain

Leandro Cano, Hugo E. Carbajal, Sarita Ocón,
Dena Martinez, Paula Rebelo, and Sean Burgos

Photo by Tim Fuller
Almost every community has legends, superstitions, folklore, and old wives' tales that are passed down from generation to generation. In The River Bride, Marisela Treviño Orta took a brief fact she saw on a TV show concerning Amazonian folklore to craft a magical and mysterious story of the power of true love. The play won Arizona Theatre Company's National Latino Playwriting Award in 2013 and ATC presents a beautiful production of this tale, after its world premiere at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last year, that's infused with hope and heartbreak.

Set in a small fishing village along the Amazon river, the story begins three days before Belmira's wedding when her father and her fiancé Duarte pull from the river a strange and mysterious man named Moises, who is stuck in their fishing net. Belmira's sister Helena is taken by Moises' charm, good manners and his offer of an intriguing though unknown future, but Belmira's jealousy threatens to get in the middle of the growing love these two strangers share.

Marisela Treviño Orta's play is full of sincerity, imagination, and defined characters. However, while it only runs a brief 90 minutes, it does take a little while for the elements of the story to truly come into place, it is slightly predictable, and, not once, but twice, it uses overheard conversations as a slightly sloppy shortcut to provide conflict and intrigue. But once the plot kicks into gear, the way the pieces of the story, and the pasts of several of the characters, are woven together is beautifully portrayed and it becomes a spellbinding story that gently pulls you in, just like Moises was pulled in from the net in the river.

Under Kinan Valdez's thoughtful direction, the entire cast deliver clear and reflective portrayals. As Helena, Sarita Ocón evokes a deep sense of beauty and care beneath this young woman's profound hurt and heartbreak, while Paula Rebelo is full of eagerness and excitement as the careless and spontaneous Belmira. Hugo E. Carbajal instills an appropriate mystical sense in Moises. Leandro Cano and Dena Martinez elicit an abundance of love as the girls' parents, and Sean Burgos does good work as the conflicted Duarte.

Regina Garcia's lush scenic design and the evocative lighting and animated projections of David Lee Cuthbert and Emiliano Valdez's imaginative sound design combine to create a magical, mystical landscape of sight and sound. Rose Pederson's costumes are character specific and perfect.

While The River Bride may have a few small shortcomings, Marisela Treviño Orta has written a beautiful and original modern fable that portrays how jealousy and regret can sometimes sidetrack a person's quest for happiness and how, if you believe you've found true love, you should act upon it as quickly as you can.

The River Bride at Arizona Theatre Company runs through December 3rd, 2017, at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix AZ. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling 602-256–6995.

Director: Kinan Valdez
Scenic Designer: Regina Garcia
Costume Designer: Rose Pederson
Lighting and Projection Designer: David Lee Cuthbert
Sound Designer: Emiliano Valdez

Belmira: Paula Rebelo
Helena: Sarita Ocón*
Sr. Costa: Leandro Cano*
Duarte: Sean Burgos
Sr.. Costa: Dena Martinez*
Moises: Hugo E. Carbajal*

*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

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