Playwright goes undercover to learn about Quiverfulls

Marisa Emma Smith stars in one-woman show at Evergreen

Rosemary Rowe noticed a big difference between the Quiverfull Christian couples she watched on T.V. and the daughters who wrote online about their experiences in the conservative movement.

The families that were featured on the small screen such as the Duggars in 19 Kids and Counting often didn’t provide the most scintillating programming, with their right-wing, simplistic views, she said.

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By contrast, the girls who Rowe tracked down in the United States and Canada — as she went “undercover” to research for her new play — regularly blogged about their talents: their crafting skills, the books they were reading and their photography, which often included images of their hope chests.

They were the girls who, after graduation, stayed at home to learn about domestic life while “waiting for God to bring them their Prince Charming,” Rowe said. “I was really intrigued with their lifestyles.”

Rowe’s fictional account of a Quiverfull girl she befriended online is told in her award-winning show The Good Bride, a Firehall Arts Centre/Alley Theatre co-production that runs next week in Coquitlam.

Rowe built her protagonist around Maranatha who, in the late 1980s in the U.S., became engaged at 15 after her father — an influential elder in the movement — set her up with a 28-year-old man.

Just before they got hitched, Maranatha’s dad would accompany her to a friend’s home and there, from 3 p.m. to midnight each night, the bride would wait for her groom to claim her (he eventually did and now the couple have several children; they continue to follow the religious movement, Rowe said).

Rowe said she needed the perfect actor for The Good Bride to capture Maranatha’s youthful energy, and she found her in Marisa Emma Smith — a Vancouver-based performer, director and producer.

“She really goes through the wringer in this play,” Rowe said of Smith. “She’s goofy but also has Maranatha’s emotional depth, her intense doubt and her excitement for what’s about to happen.”

Rowe said she often hears one of two reactions from her audiences: viewers either sympathize with Maranatha, hoping she escapes, or they want to learn more about how the Quirverfulls live and think.

Since 2017, when she won the Sterling Award for Outstanding New Play, Rowe said The Good Bride has become more relevant with the Evangelical base supporting President Donald Trump and vice-president Mike Pence.

And Rowe said the Quiverfull faith is more common than more people think (the closest study subject she had was a girl from Abbotsford).

“You expect them to be like the Duggars, to cut themselves off from the rest of the world and to not be progressive,” Rowe said. “But they have the internet. They go to Starbucks. They could be standing next to you at the grocery checkout lineup.”

The Good Bride runs March 14 to 16 at the Evergreen Cultural Centre (1205 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam). For tickets at $33/$28/$15, call 604-927-6555 or visit evergreenculturalcentre.ca. The opening performance includes an American Sign Language interpretation for deaf patrons. 

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