Part-time lecturer in the English Department, Professor Julie Bowman recently published a review of a collection of plays by Melissa Leilani Larson in the Fall 2017 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. The collection, Third Wheel: Peculiar Stories of Mormon Women in Love, published by the independent Mormon publisher, BCC Press, includes two plays: Little Happy Secrets and Pilot Program.
Professor Bowman’s review explains how Larson’s plays offer a particularly Mormon exploration of love triangles, including one that imagines the reintroduction of a polygamy to orthodox practice. The collection, Professor Bowman suggests, prods gently at the circumstances that interfere with the characters’ easy alignment with the church they believe in. As a result, these plays offer an intimate view of an experience that matters a great deal to the spectrum of conversations currently underway in the LDS community.
Invited by the literature book review editor for Dialogue, Andrew Hall, to review the collection, Professor Bowman discovered that the plays, though modern and oriented to a Mormon audience, resemble some of the early modern plays she studies. Like Shakespeare’s problem plays, Professor Bowman saw Larson’s plays as presenting the reader with social and ethical dilemmas which are not easily resolved. Identifying particular kinship with the problem comedy Merchant of Venice, which strains justice and mercy in the treatment of Shylock, the outsider who exits the stage unwell, stripped of his religion and his fortune, Professor Bowman suggests that Third Wheel shows us characters with pain points that prompt us to ask, “What ought we to do when we see suffering?”
Professor Bowman’s review reminds us that literature and empathy and action bear a relationship to each other. She asserts that “by engaging with Larson’s characters, we can cultivate compassion for the conflicts that arise at the intersection of the doctrine, faith, and lived human experience.” Professor Bowman sees this as a practice worthy of our time in any community with conflict, that is, in all communities.
Professor Bowman holds a Ph.D. in Literary and Cultural Studies from Carnegie Mellon University. Her research interests include domestic spaces and early modern drama. Her ongoing book project—Domestic Conflict: Reading Space in Early Modern Drama—demonstrates how plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries cultivate of the ideals and norms of early modern England’s domestic and social sphere. Professor Bowman is consistently interested in the intersection of literature, culture, and how we live.