Marisela Treviño Orta’s at times captivating, at times perplexing, drama “Heart Shaped Nebula,” now in a world premiere at Shotgun Players, begins when a young girl (played by Gisela Feied), armed with a flashlight, creeps furtively into a dark motel room on a forsaken stretch of desert near Las Vegas. There she ransacks a backpack that’s been left on the bed.
When a key turns in the lock, and the room’s occupant, Miqueo (Hugo E. Carbajal), enters with leftover pizza in a box, she hides, not very covertly, behind the furniture.
Soon enough, the startled Miqueo spots her and discovers she’s stolen from his pack a ring that has significant emotional meaning for him. The girl, Amara, promises to return it if he tells her certain things about his life.
It’s an enticing opening for a play that uses astrophysics and Greek mythology to illuminate a modern story of eternal love and grief.
Mysteries accumulate. Some unfold organically, such as, What exactly is Miqueo doing here in the middle of nowhere?
Others, not so much: Who is Amara, and why is she so snotty and obnoxious? Why did she bother to hide at the beginning? Why is she so hungry? Why is her agenda so purposefully obscure?
Why has the love of Miqueo’s life, Dalila (Marilet Martinez), chosen the night skies as a career focus when she has a deadly phobia about the dark?
Science nerd Dalila’s described as the most popular girl in high school, but really? In what parallel universe?
And if you’re in a car crash, wouldn’t you look for your cell phone to call 911 before doing anything else?
The scenes between the two lovers are charming enough due to a playful spontaneity between Martinez and Carbajal. And director Desdemona Chiang keeps things moving along briskly (except for that anti-climactic car crash scene).
But there’s a lack of internal logic here. Only one example is the interaction between Miqueo and the teenage intruder, which seems created solely to provide conflict; the relationship between the non-star-cross’d lovers consists mostly of Miqueo listening worshipfully to the astronomy-enraptured Dalila.
Science may not provide the answers to all of life’s enigmas, of course, and Orta crafts some elegant metaphorical ways to present her cosmic, eternal love story. But ultimately the contrived nature of the narrative is emotionally distancing rather than involving.
Heart Shaped Nebula
Presented by Shotgun Players
Where: Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley
When: Wednesdays-Sundays; closes June 21
Tickets: $20 to $30
Contact: (510) 841-6500, www.shotgunplayers.org