By Kathleen Allen

It started with a short story that just wouldn't go away.

Playwright Caridad Svich had conjured up Guapa (it means beautiful in Spanish), a young girl who longs to play soccer. Once the story was published, she thought she was done with her.

Not so.

"I kept thinking about her," says Svich, on the phone from New York, where rehearsals for her adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "Love in the Time of Cholera" are in progress.

"I started to dream about the characters."

Those dreams became "Guapa," which Borderlands Theater opens in previews tonight. The play is part of a "rolling world premiere." Borderlands and two other companies, Portland's Miracle Theatre and Phoenix Basile Theatre in Indianapolis, are launching the play in separate productions over the next several months.

When Svich decided to write the script, she had a few themes in mind: sports, family and hope.

"My dad was a professional soccer player, and I always wanted to pay homage to my background," she says.

"There aren't that many (plays) that deal with sports."

As an only child, Svich decided to include a family - a big family, and not necessarily a traditional one. The soccer-playing Guapa has been taken in by a single mother with several children. It's set in a small West Texas town.

"I knew I wanted to deal with a family structure, and a makeshift family," she says. She wanted to look at "how families get made, and how they function outside the traditional family. There's love and support and nurturing. I knew I wanted Guapa to come into that family, the embrace of that."

And then there's the dining room table crowded with people who love each other - it's one of the play's earliest scenes.

"I never had that big old family table, but I'm awfully curious about it," Svich says.

"I knew I wanted to write a dinner-table scene; it's a staple of the American drama, and I kind of love (those scenes)."

The story is about Guapa's dreams of becoming a professional soccer player and all the obstacles in her way, including a family that thinks overcoming the odds is nearly impossible.

"I wanted it to be hopeful, regardless of where the story was leading," Svich says.

"It's the unobtainable goal. And I knew I wanted to play into the underdog. ... It's really about how to play the game of life."

Svich had laid out quite a daunting task for herself - a play that told a strong story, had fully realized characters and incorporated all that she wanted to say.

Hard, however, it was not.

The writing process "was fun," she says. "The characters spoke to me - I felt I was transcribing. Sometimes that happens in the work, and that's the way I felt. I was so happy; I love these characters and didn't want to let them go."

Others felt much the same. When Barclay Goldsmith, Borderlands' founder and the play's director, read it, he sent Svich an email that said, "We have to talk."

Then Phoenix Theatre called, and then Miracle.

"It's happened very quickly," she says.

Now that "Guapa" is about to be unleashed to the world, Svich has a new dream.

"I hope audiences will find faith and encouragement (in the piece)," she says. "Gosh, if they could do that. … To me, there's something very moving about the characters in the play and how they survive. I just want audiences to walk out with a bit of hope that things are possible in this world."

If you go

• What: Borderlands Theater's production of "Guapa."

• By: Caridad Svich.

• Director: Barclay Goldsmith.

• When: Preview is 7:30 tonight; regular performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday (opening), 2 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. next Thursday. Continues through Oct. 21.

• Cost: Preview is $12; opening is $24 (which includes a reception with cast and director); regular performances $19.75. Discounts available.

• Reservations, information: Borderlandstheater.org or 882-7406.

• Cast: Marisa Acosta, Adrian Gomez, Annabelle Nuñez, Mario Tineo and Gabriela Urias.

• Running time: 2 hours, including a 10-minute intermission.