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River Bride Review

Magic and Mystery

Address: Studio Theatre, Performing Arts Bldg., 835 College Ave.
Kentfield, CA 95904
Phone: 415-485-9385

The River Bride—Mystery and Magic at COM

Vanessa Lopez as Belmira, Justin Marx as Moises, Juji Johnson as Senhora Costa and Raysheina de Leon-Ruhs as Helena in COM’s production of The River Bride.

Review: Judith M. Wilson
Photos: Robin Jackson

The River Bride is an enchanting tale, with a touch of mystery, an atmospheric setting and the allure of magic realism. By Marisela Treviña Orta, it focuses on love, longing and the need for human connection, and it is the College of Marin drama department’s first production of the new season.


The story is based on a Brazilian myth that has a river dolphin taking human form and going ashore for three days to find a bride. It begins when a pair of fisherman snare a man in their net, drag him to shore and save him from drowning (l. to r. Ricardo May-Tep as Duarte, Justin Marx as Moises and Deivi Velasquez as Senhor Costa) . The villagers welcome the mysterious stranger, who is well-dressed and appears to have resources, and he captures the attention of two sisters, one who is about to be married and the other who has experienced disappointment in love.


Vanessa Lopez plays Belmira, who is impulsive and demanding, while Raysheina de Leon-Ruhs portrays her older sister Helena, who is more reserved and reluctant to take chances. Justin Marx is Moises, the man who upsets their lives and takes them in directions they never expected. Juji Johnson is a standout as Sra. Costa, whose motherly wisdom guides her daughters, and while a revelation from her own past helps Helena make a decision, she is unable to prevent the eventual outcome. Rounding out the cast are Ricardo May-Tep as Duarte, a fisherman and the girls’ initial love interest, and Deivi Velasquez at Sr. Costa, Belmira and Helena’s father. (Photo: Juji Johnson as Sra. Costa (back) with Raysheina de Leon-Ruhs as Helena).

Molly Noble directs and makes good use of silence and the script’s symbolism to tell the story, which opens with Belmira alone at the end of a pier tossing bait into the river. The set on the riverside is simple, with a dock, water and trees, while the dialog refers to activities in the village beyond. The set design by Ronald E. Krempetz is beautifully conceived, with water the primary element. Adding to the sense of place is the sound and music design by Billie Cox. It features sounds of the rainforest, such as birds singing and fish splashing, and a soundtrack with a lovely selection of Brazilian songs (in Portuguese) by notable artists, including Gilberto Gil, Maria Bethânia and Chico Buarque, which help to create the mystique of the Brazilian setting. Among them is Eu Só Quero Un Xodó—I Only Want One Love—which reflects the recurring theme. The properties design by Kathryn Barnett is also effective, with a piece of fabric serving as a metaphor in one instance to foreshadow certain events.

It’s an intriguing tale with sights and sounds to transport the viewer to another place and time, creating a magical experience for the audience.

The River Bride plays through October 13 at the Studio Theatre, College of Marin, Kentfield. pa.marin.edu/drama.

 Coming next is Nuncrackers, with book, music and lyrics by Dan Goggin. Lisa Morse directs, with musical direction by Debra Chambliss. It runs on November 23, 24 and 30 and December 1, 6, 7 8, 14 and 15 at 7:30 p.m. and November 25 and November 2, 9 and 16 at 2 p.m. in the Studio Theatre. Tickets are available from the Box Office, 415-485-9385 or brownpapertickets.com.