By Rosemary Rowe. Directed by Donna Spencer. A Firehall Arts Centre and Alley Theatre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Friday, March 1. Continues until March 9
When was the last time you saw a play inspired by a reality-TV show? 19 Kids and Counting was the impetus for the one-woman play The Good Bride, a good indication of the way Vancouver playwright Rosemary Rowe playfully uses pop culture to explore deeper and scarier themes.
In this case, she became fascinated by the Quiverfull evangelical Christian movement after seeing the show about America’s Duggar family. In it, the infamously fertile Duggars live by the edict that a woman’s place is to produce babies to fill her husband’s quiver full of “arrows” for God. Rowe delved into researching the movement, and found a thriving online community of American girls eagerly awaiting the chance to leave the patriarchal rule of their father’s home for total obedience in their husband’s.
In The Good Bride, 15-year-old Maranatha (Marisa Emma Smith) sits in a gingham-clad bedroom, wearing her homemade wedding gown. Carolyn Rapanos’s inspired set features beams rising up like a cathedral’s, with walls covered in delicate pink… Paper flowers? Tickets? Whatever they are, they create a cosy pastel prison, awash in a heavenly coral light.
Maranatha waits, night after night, for her 29-year-old groom to arrive and whisk her away. Till now, they’ve only “side-hugged”. Her pastor father has imposed an extra prewedding waiting period to mimic St. Matthew’s parable of the 10 virgins. The trick for Maranatha is to stay pure in mind and body till he arrives. In one of The Good Bride’s slightly surreal touches, the family she’s staying with serves her only white foods like tapioca, vanilla milkshakes, and yogurt to protect her wedding gown.
But she starts to unravel in her confinement, not just because she keeps hearing the parents in the next room doing it. Her estranged mother has written her a letter for the first time since she left the family. And though she knows her father would disapprove, it becomes harder and harder for Maranatha to resist the urge to open it.
Smith embodies the girl's mix of childlike naiveté and a budding sexuality. Her sentences end in that classic teen upward intonation. Smith addresses us directly, pulling scrapbooks out of her suitcase, eating the “white sustenance” that’s been delivered to her room, praying, and babbling about everything from proverbs to the Duggar sisters’ marriage-advice blog. At 100 nonstop minutes, her performance is a feat.
The script feels a bit long, and it takes a while for transformation to happen. But Rowe has a savvy and unpretentiously quirky way with words. Maranatha’s chatter is a mix of Snapchat kid and medieval nun, interweaving talk of Pinterest with quotes from the scriptures. “Isn’t God so good?” she says at one point, and then later: “My down-there feels like Pop Rocks!”
After a prolonged dry spell for stage stories about teen girls, we have two smart offerings this season—the last one being Amy Rutherford’s equally funny-dark Mortified. Rowe is a sharply comical, fresh feminist voice with an unexpected point of view—apparently as well-versed in the Gospel of Matthew as in the TLC network.