‘Heart Shaped Nebula’ at Berkeley’s Shotgun Players is deeply personal to playwright Treviño Orta

Miqueo (Hugo Carbajal) and Amara (Gisela Feied) engage in a discussion in
Miqueo (Hugo Carbajal) and Amara (Gisela Feied) engage in a discussion in “Heart Shaped Nebula,” in Berkeley. (Shotgun Players Photo)

Marisela Treviño Orta has had a most unique journey to the theatre, which started with a love for science.

The science she was exposed to as a young girl growing up in Texas comes from her father, a teacher of earth science. Orta fondly and proudly remembers her prowess identifying many formations of rock, as well as all things dealing with astronomy and Greek mythology, which is connected with many of the names of the constellations in the stars. Orta is certainly a bit of a renaissance woman – a rock identifying, mythology-loving poet who fell into playwriting through an MFA in creative writing.

It’s been a 13-year journey in the Bay Area for the 38-year-old Orta, who is seeing her theatre career on quite the rise. A world premiere is on the horizon at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2016. Productions of her work are popping up throughout the Bay Area. And a newfound demand for her to begin working with companies she has admired for quite some time has left her thrilled.

One of those companies is Shotgun Players in Berkeley, the company who is producing her play, “Heart Shaped Nebula,” which begins previewing Thursday, May 21st, and opens on May 28th.

The play is a love story focusing on the characters of Miqueo and Dalila and their connection through cosmic forces. Fusing elements of astronomy and Greek mythology, the story is an examination of love and faith. A third character, a teenage girl named Amara, helps Miqueo’s journey.

An Amber Alert inspired the play, yet the story is not one of abduction. Orta admits that the alert was simply the jumping off point, but she was much more fascinated by what brings people together, by either fate or circumstance. As an image driven playwright, the image of a predator and a child in a room was just the start of a different story, where a scientific principle explains certain connections.

The play deeply connects to Orta, who was able to express some very personal moments in her life through this story.

Marisela Treviño Orta
Marisela Treviño Orta

“The play shares the things that I love – astronomy, Texas,” said Orta. “I feel like the two characters are both me, and represent a close friendship I have with someone.

“I wrote the play when I wanted to figure out how to say something. Writing plays are a way for me to capture my life in some ways. Working on this play was a way of articulating the way I was feeling, and I had to put it on the page in order to say them out loud.”

Orta has explored many levels of love in her play. And one of the themes that resonates for her is the issue of first love, young love. She was reminded of this recently as she visited Santa Clara University to watch a production of her play “The River Bride,” and was struck by the energy and idealism of the young theatre students.

“(“Heart Shaped Nebula,” director Desdemona Chiang) talked about how we can be pretty cynical about life as a society, and the play kind of asks us to remember about first love,” said Orta. “When I was down in Santa Clara, I just kind of liked the glow in the student’s eyes. They really reminded me that it’s easy to forget what it’s like when you see the world is full of possibilities.”

“Heart Shaped Nebula” is certainly a special play for Orta, because it is a continuation of exploring her experience as a Mexican-American woman navigating through the world she occupies. It is also the first play where she did not utilize Spanish, which speaks directly to the varied experience Latinos face in this country.

“My interest as a playwright is recognizing our cultural community, because there is no singular experience of being Latino in the United States,” said Orta. “Our experience is a spectrum. I would love to see all those stories, and for me what I’m contributing is a picture of a cultural community that is not one-dimensional, but three-dimensional. “

While researching the astronomy of her play, she found that there is an actual heart nebula. It looks like a heart, is intensely red and lies in the Perseus Arm of the galaxy.

The heart nebula exists about 7500 light years away from Earth, yet Orta would like to have the audience find the play in their own hearts in a place much closer to home.

“This play asks you to wear your heart on your sleeve.” 


Shotgun Players Presents “Heart Shaped Nebula”
Written by Marisela Treviño Orta
Directed by Desdemona Chiang
May 21st – June 14th
Tickets range from $5 to $30
Shotgun Players
The Ashby Stage
1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley, CA
For tickets, call (510) 841-6500 or visit shotgunplayers.org

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