A real fairy tale

'The River Bride' playwright had only one other play produced before landing with OSF

By Bill Varble
For the Tidings

Posted Feb. 18, 2016 at 2:00 AM

Marisela Treviño Orta had the show “River Monsters” on television while she was doing laundry. According to the program, the piranhas of the Amazon fear river dolphins, which prey on them.
“I happened to look up, and you could see something was eating the fish,” Treviño Orta says.
If the 39-year-old poet and playwright hadn’t seen the image of the dolphins and the piranhas and had her imagination fired, her play “The River Bride” likely never would have been written. As it is, the play, which she describes as “a fairy tale for adults,” will have its world premiere Feb. 28 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Angus Bowmer Theatre.
Fascinated by the footage of the dolphins and piranhas, Treviño Orta did some research and found an Amazon legend that river dolphins at certain times transform magically into handsome young men and come ashore and seduce young women living near the river.
“I said, ‘That’s a story,’ ” she says.
Treviño Orta, who lives in the Bay Area and has a Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry, says her stories always start with an image. In the play, which had a storefront production in an earlier version, a mysterious young man named Moises is pulled from the river by a fisherman’s net and says he has no recollection of how he got there. A local family invites Moises to stay with it, and one of the daughters falls in love with him, spurring events that will change the characters’ lives.
Treviño Orta knows it’s an extreme long shot for a playwright of her experience — she’s had just one play professionally produced — to have a play in the repertory at OSF.
“That’s a fairy tale in itself,” she says. “I don’t even have an agent.”
A couple of years ago a friend she knew from the Bay Area who was working at OSF invited her to “throw a play on the pile” along with submissions from better-known playwrights hoping to have their plays considered. In December 2014, she got an e-mail from OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch saying the festival was considering her play.
“A month later Bill called and said, ‘We’re going to do it,’ ” she says.
Treviño Orta says a play with Latino characters and magical elements tends to get dubbed magical realism, a somewhat debased term she says doesn’t fit. Unlike characters in a story by, say, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, her characters are shocked and frightened when they encounter something fantastical.
She says she grew up watching Disney fairy tales and later discovered the Brothers Grimm and realized how much darker the original stories were. In combining Latino folklore with the structure of European fairy tales, she says she’s trying to create cautionary tales “to help adults navigate our emotional lives.”
Most of the characters in Treviño Orta’s plays are Latino, and she feels they should be played by Latino actors, as they are in the OSF production.
“I’m interested in Latino actors having the opportunity,” she says. “Many feel they’re not being considered unless the role is actor-specific. It’s important to find and cultivate that talent.”
She says the first thing director Laurie Woolery told her was that Rauch said the play couldn’t use water for the river on the Bowmer stage.
“I was fine with that,” she says. “I go to the theater not for the realism, so I don’t need a river to tell the story. I like to connect the dots, so your imagination has to work.”
“The River Bride” previews at 8 p.m. Feb. 21 and 25 before opening at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 28. Other plays opening are “Twelfth Night” at 8 p.m. Feb. 26, and “The Yeomen of the Guard” at 1:30 p.m. and “Great Expectations” at 8 p.m. Feb. 27.
Reach Medford freelance writer Bill Varble at [email protected].

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