“The River Bride” – Arizona Theatre Company – Herberger Theater Center

Theater Review – November 19, 2017


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Arizona Theatre Company’s beautifully etched and stunningly staged production of Marisela Trevino Orta’s “The River Bride” gives audiences illuminating insight into love, honor, and the impact of family in a small Amazon community far removed from the complexities of modern life.

The poetically lyrical play paints a glowing picture of romantic discovery in a culture without many material things as two sisters yearn for the same man.  One sister ends up in an unexpected relationship with a man new to the tiny village.  Relationship challenges and diverse approaches to love result in different outcomes for the women.  Critical interaction with the sisters parents provide additional turns in the women’s lives.  The parents reveal that they didn’t grow to love each other conventionally.  Some of Orta’s dialogue does not seem conducive to the characters and is the primary place where the new play needs careful work.

Fluidly staged by Kinan Valdez and acted by six fine actors, the touching tale unfolds in unexpected ways with developments that astound and amaze.  Valdez’s staging captures the relaxed pace of life in this environment but brings a realistic take to the problems and issues these people face.  The set is a constructionist delight as it visually depicts this exotic habitat.  The environment is further enhanced by illuminating lighting, simple costuming, and colorful projections that paint both the actual world and a made-up artificial place that is very real to the characters.

Performed with telling honesty and emotional range, the play explores an alien culture and its rich traditions on a magnificent set that graphically portrays the small rural town with little outside contact to the world around it.  The superb cast captures the characters ethnicity with precision as each performer brings out the character’s unique approach to everyday situations.  The two sisters are played with affecting depth by Paula Rebelo who gives fierce independence to Belmira who loves the local guy, Duarte, played with masculine swagger by Sean Burgos, and Sarita Oconwho who brings tender understanding to Helena who ends up with newcomer Moises played with a cautious determination by Hugo E. Carbajal.  The parents are lovingly played with knowing concern by Leandro Cano as the father and Dena Martinez as the mother.

“The River Bride” is a touching look at how love evolves in a different place with diverse traditions and approaches to life.  The play continues at the Herberger Theater Center through December 3.  For tickets, call the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 602-256-6995 or order tickets online at www.arizonatheatre.org.

Grade: B