Review: ‘Heart Shaped Nebula’ at Shotgun Players (**1/2)

by Charles Kruger
Rating: **1/2
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Hugo E. Arbajal as Miqueo and Marilet Martinez as Dalila in Shotgun Players' world premiere production of
Hugo E. Arbajal as Miqueo and Marilet Martinez as Dalila in Shotgun Players’ world premiere production of “Heart Shaped Nebula” by Marisela Treviño Orta. Photo Credit: Pak Han.
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

The world premiere of “Heart Shaped Nebula” is the second production in Shotgun’s season of all women playwrights. Marisela Treviño is a poet and an emerging playwright.

It is easy to see why the team at Shotgun decided to produce “Heart Shaped Nebula.” It is a gentle, unpretentious love story, written in poetic language, full of interesting imagery, and a fascinating back story based on the characters’ love of astronomy. With the stars for inspiration, playwright Orta is able to provide space for her poetic gifts, incorporating Greek mythology and scientific metaphor to deepen the simple tale.

All of this is lovely, and includes some fine writing, but it also leads to a squishy sentimental core that does not generate a lot of dramatic tension. In a word, the story is predictable and while the images and metaphors are engaging, the plot is not. Even the emergence of a brandished gun does not generate excitement because the audience never even briefly believes it represents real danger. “Heart Shaped Nebula” is full of heart, but also nebulous. This is its first full length production, and it could benefit from further rewrites.

Miqueo (Hugo E. Carbajal) is staying overnight in a rural hotel (convincingly evoked by Maya Linke’s fine set), where he encounters a runaway adolescent intruder, Amara (Gisela Feied), who possesses mysterious knowledge of his past. As the mysterious Amara pokes at Miqueo’s grieving heart, we gradually learn the details of his love affair with the absent Dalila (Marilet Martinez), much of which is reenacted as his memories come to life. Neither of the ladies is quite what she seems, and the love story has qualities of myth and magic which go beyond the merely human, all of which is unveiled against the vast imagistic canopy of the starry night.

The three actors do well in bringing to life the emotions of their characters, and the story is quite touching. A recent (2013) graduate of Oakland School for the Arts and current UC Berkeley undergraduate, Gisela Feied as Amara more than holds her own with her professional colleagues.

While not fully satisfying as drama, “Heart Shaped Nebula” is not without magic, and pleases as poetry.

“Heart Shaped Nebula” plays at the Ashby Stage through June 21, 2015. For further information click here.

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“Heart Shaped Nebula” by Marisela Treviño Orta, world premiere produced by Shotgun Players. Director: Desdemona Chiang. Set Design: Maya Linke. Lighting Design: Stephanie Buchner. Costume Design: Antonia Gunnarson. Properties Design: Kirsten Royston. Soun Design: Matt Stines. Projection Design: Micah J. Stiegletz. Dramaturg: Nakissa Etemad.

Miqueo: Hugh E. Carbajal. Amara: Gisela Feied. Dalila: Marilet Martinez. 

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