BERKELEY, CALIF.: For playwright Marisela Treviño Orta, an Amber Alert on TV was the starting point for her latest show, Heart Shaped Nebula, which bows at Shotgun Players May 21–June 14.
The Amber Alert prompted an image in Orta’s mind of a man and teenage girl in a motel room—but she wasn’t interested in writing a play about abduction. “So I had to figure out why these two individuals were in the same room,” she says, mimicking perplexity. Eventually Orta found her answer in scientific principles—specifically, the law of conservation of mass and some esoteric elements of chemistry, which became part of the Nebula narrative.
But ultimately, Heart Shaped Nebula tells a cosmic love story of two people who are meant to be together. “After a tragic accident, Miqueo and Dalila are separated,” Orta explains. “The play begins at a moment when Miqueo’s faith in their love is unraveling, and the universe has to intervene.”
Like many of Orta’s plays, Nebula is a tapestry of science and Greek mythology: When characters discuss constellations, they retell myths associated with those constellations. The science part is personal: Her father was the Earth science teacher at the junior high she attended, and she grew up watching lunar eclipses, participating in science fairs and being quizzed on rock formations. “I fell in love with trilobite fossils and geodes,” she confesses. “And because of the connection to Greek mythology, I loved astronomy.”
Those aren’t Nebula’s only personal components. Orta wrote the play when she was at an emotional crossroads “where heartache and love were intersecting.” She says she hopes audiences will have a satisfying journey with the couple in the play. “I hope they fall in love with them. I hope they fall in love with the night sky.”