I took little naps in the blackouts between scenes: when the lights went down, so did my eyelids. That’s because sweet nothing happens for at least the first 85 minutes of The Good Bride’s 100-minute runtime. And I’m not just talking about the dearth of plot; there is no significant accumulation of anything.
In Rosemary Rowe’s script, a 15-year-old bride-to-be is waiting for her 29-year-old groom to claim her. Maranatha and Pete both belong to a fundamentalist Christian community that expects women and girls to submit to their fathers and then their husbands.
Maranatha’s daddy, who is a pastor, has decided that she must stay in the Pullmans’ house—the Pullmans are a family in his congregation—until he lets Pete know that it’s time to whisk her off to obedient bliss. Daddy has also decreed that Maranatha must wear her wedding dress every day between 3:00 p.m. and midnight because the Gospel of Matthew decrees that a bride must always be ready.
This premise is promising in that it addresses the misogynistic sadism of fundamentalist Christianity. But then the play just sits there.
The cast list only contains one name—Marisa Emma Smith plays Maranatha—so we know from the get-go that we’re in it for the long haul with just her.
And Rowe’s critique of fundamentalism is easy and familiar. Maranatha realizes that she’s going to have to move from asking herself what her father would want her to do to asking herself what Pete would want her to do. She’s been home-schooled. And her church has kept her deliberately ignorant of sex while simultaneously teaching her that women are the font of sexual temptation.
But who doesn’t know already that fundamentalist Christianity is patriarchal and repressive? And where are the stakes? Rowe’s story never seriously addresses the psychological and physical danger that girls like Maranatha are in. Yes, this play is a comedy, but a more successful satire could stay funny while showing its teeth.
Eventually, there’s a plot twist that involves a letter, but it takes forever for that twist to emerge.
On the upside, Rowe treats Maranatha’s emerging sexuality affectionately. She wonders if the mysterious concept of foreplay might involve her new breasts. She has the hots for the oldest Pullman boy. And, in the single best line in the play, she gets turned on and gasps, “Oh! My down there feels like Pop Rocks!”
Smith’s portrait of Maranatha is sweetly naïve and matter-of-fact: to her credit, she doesn’t sentimentalize the character or condescend to her.
And Carolyn Rapanos’s set is the single strongest element of the evening. Rapanos has created a little cut-out white frame with a peaked roof, a window, and gossamer walls that contain crinkly pink pieces of something or other: they evoke the petals of cherry blossoms or maybe pieces of a torn-up note. Whatever Rapanos’s intention, the result is touchingly innocent, and fragile. And this set takes light beautifully. When Lauchlin Johnston pours orange on it from above, it seems to turn liquid, almost molten.
Still, I dearly wish that Rowe had been bolder with her script. She has a political mind and a quirky sense of humour. I wanted her to push them both further and faster.
THE GOOD BRIDE By Rosemary Rowe. Directed by Donna Spencer. Produced by the Firehall Arts Centre and Alley Theatre. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Thursday, February 28. Continues until March 9.Tickets.
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