An Opera in Three Acts
In 1886 Ruth Bowen, a widow from New York City, makes her way with her mother-in-law Naomi to Utah where she encounters Benjamin Bowen, Naomi’s brother-in-law and prominent Salt Lake City businessman. Ruth’s eastern fashions and New York City charm create a sensation. As Benjamin moves to fulfill his next-of-kin “obligation” to take Ruth as his fourth wife, he is forced to flee the city pursued by federal marshals.
Benjamin and Ruth later attempt a rendezvous, which leads to Benjamin’s arrest and extended prison term. While still in prison Benjamin proposes marriage, but the “Manifesto” of 1890 stands in the way. A secret ceremony is still possible, but Ruth takes a train home to New York City. Benjamin’s attempts to pursue her are circumvented by his Gentile creditors’ threat of foreclosure on mortgaged property. Fate has seemingly made their separation permanent, but then, in an unlikely turn of events, the two lovers’ paths unexpectedly cross….
Synopsis - Act 1
In 1883 Naomi Bowen, accompanied by her husband and son Jack, has moved from Utah to New York City. A year or so later Jack meets Ruth a native New Yorker, and the two are married (about 1885). Then Jack is killed in an accident, and Naomi’s husband dies of a sudden heart attack. Heartbroken Naomi travels to Salt Lake City accompanied by her widowed daughter-in-law. They arrive in the spring of 1886. As the curtain rises Naomi’s brother-in-law Benjamin, his three wives, numerous children, and business partner Benton are at the train station awaiting the train’s arrival.
When the engine comes to a stop, Naomi descends from the Pullman amid a chorus of “Welcome home!” Then in a moment of anticipation and sudden hush Ruth makes her appearance. Benjamin is dumbstruck, but suddenly federal marshals appear to arrest him for illegal cohabitation. He disappears into the crowd and escapes. Once settled, Ruth goes to work in Benjamin’s mercantile store. Having brought with her some New York City “gowns,” she captures the attention of the Bowen wives, older daughters, and some women of the city. At their insistence she models a dress for Benjamin, her Eastern fashions offering an alluring contrast to traditional bonnets and dresses.
Soon Ruth becomes Benjamin’s private secretary and takes on important responsibilities at the store. The Bowen wives, their jealousies notwithstanding, accept Ruth as a member of the family. At Benjamin’s behest Naomi schools her daughter-in law in the “principle.” Ruth holds back, suspecting Benjamin is a “Mormon baron” intent on increasing his holdings. Benjamin informs his wives that as a “near kinsman” he must “do his duty.” At the appointed time when he is to make a formal proposal of marriage to Ruth with his wives and others present the federal marshals again appear and Benjamin is forced to flee, his objective unaccomplished.
Salt Lake City, Late 1800s
Synopsis - Act 2
Benjamin has become a member of the Mormon underground, his life devoted to keeping a step ahead of the federal marshals. Benjamin and Ruth exchange letters. Hard times come to the Bowen family as Benjamin’s wives struggle to make ends meet. The mercantile business suffers as so many prominent men flee the city. Benjamin sends a request that Ruth meet him at a secret hiding place. She hesitates as Judith, Benjamin’s daughter, asks: “Oh, what’s it like to take, to have, to hold/ A man apart, one’s own, outside the fold?”
Later Kerns, a competitor, enters the store on the pretext of an interest in one of the few remaining dresses on display. Ruth models the dress for him. He suggests they travel to New York City, promising a reversal of her fortunes. Ruth, at first taken with the idea but then catching his real intent, is revolted and drives him from the store.
On a dark wintry night, alone on a barren hillside amidst snow and wind, she makes her way to Benjamin’s hiding place. Unaware she is being followed, she struggles through the snow to Benjamin’s campsite. Once aware of Ruth’s approach Benjamin is ecstatic, but then as the two come together, the marshals surround them. Ruth stands helplessly looking on as they handcuff their prisoner and take him into custody.
Ruth, Spring of 1886
Synopsis - Act 2
In February 1888 Benjamin is found guilty of unlawful cohabitation and is sent to prison. He isn’t released until the fall of 1890 about the time the “Manifesto” is issued by Mormon authorities advising against plural marriage. When Benjamin returns, Ruth, foreseeing an impossible situation, boards a train to New York City. Benjamin is desperate and is about to pursue her when he is warned of an impending financial crisis. He must act immediately or lose everything. He takes a train to Omaha to meet with his bankers.
Benjamin later retires to a hotel. At the restaurant he is joined by a crowd of guests. He sits at a table with strangers who complain that their train was waylaid when it struck a cow. Stranded in “Braskie” they must wait until repairs are made. When food is served Benjamin doesn’t notice Ruth entering the restaurant. She likewise doesn’t see Benjamin. She takes a place at a table across the room and sits with her back to him.
The people seated near Benjamin learn he is from Utah. Those at Ruth’s table are informed she boarded the train at Salt Lake City. A guest makes a remark about Mormon polygamy. Another asks Ruth how she was able to “escape.” As she replies, Benjamin suddenly recognizes her voice. He leaps to his feet. Ruth in utter disbelief stands and faces him. The room is livid with laughter and excitement. Women guests suspect Benjamin is about to take the girl captive, but Ruth calms them as she tells her story. She wins their hearts, and they join in a chorus of joyous praise. The hour is late.
The guests retire to their rooms, leaving Benjamin and Ruth to themselves. What will Ruth do? Which way will she go, east or west? Suddenly an announcement is heard: the engine is ready, the east-bound train will leave for New York City first thing in the morning.
The guests suddenly rejoin Ruth and Benjamin, and together they sing:
Careful now, you might get more,
An awful lot more than what you bargained for,
So put your head on your shoulders
And your thinker in gear,
Cause it’s never—never! never—never!
Gonna be the way it was before!
Bowen Family Members
Ruth Bowen, soprano: A widow from New York City, young (early to middle twenties) venturesome, pretty, active, resourceful.
Naomi Bowen, contralto: Ruth’s mother-in-law, Benjamin’s sister-in-law, stable, a widow in her late forties.
Benjamin Bowen, Sr. baritone: middle forties, established family, church, and businessman; healthy, vigorous, in the prime of life.
Edith Bowen, soprano: Benjamin’s first wife, in her early forties, healthy, active, mother of a large family and matron of the larger Bowen family.
Sarah Ann Bowen, mezzo: Benjamin’s second wife, sister to Adele; in her late thirties; pleasant, resourceful, a busy mother.
Adelle Bowen, alto: Benjamin’s third wife; sister to Sarah Ann; in her mid thirties; busy with her growing family but still
conscious of her not-yet-dissipated youth.
Benjamin Bowen, Jr. tenor: Benjamin and Edith Bowen’s firstborn, in his early twenties, ambitious, sees himself as his father’s successor.
Judith Bowen, soprano: eldest daughter of Benjamin and Sarah Ann Bowen, Ruth’s confidant, mature for her age, late teens, idealistic, prospective bride and mother.
Willard R. Bowen: child of Benjamin and Sarah Ann Bowen, age six, does not sing.
Jacob Bowen, baritone: Benjamin and Adelle Bowen’s firstborn, late teens
Nancy Bowen, mezzo: Jacob’s younger sister
Edward (Eddie) Bowen: eight-year-old Son of Benjamin and Edith
“Miss Young,” mezzo: appears in Act 2, part 4, a mature mother of about forty
Benjamin’s Business Partner, his Competitor, and Others
Benton, tenor: Benjamin Bowen’s business partner, older, jolly, egg-shaped, optimistic, progressive.
Alexander Kerns, tenor: Benjamin’s gentile competitor in his late twenties, well-dressed, outgoing, flashy
Bodyguard (act 1) second tenor
Messenger (act 1) second tenor
Station Attendant (act 1) second tenor
Worker 1, tenor (act 2)
Worker 2, 2nd tenor (act 2)
Worker 3, baritone (act 2)
Worker 4, bass (act 2)
First Banker, tenor (act 3)
Second Banker, bass (act 3)
Prophet, bass: dignified, aged, grey-bearded, white-headed
Counselor, baritone: “George Q.”, a middle-aged man with an authoritative presence
Deputy 1, tenor
Deputy 2, bass
Hotel Guests (act 3)
Joe Simmons, second tenor
Jane Simmons, mezzo
Man 1, tenor
Man 2, bass
Woman 2, contralto
George White, baritone
Sue White, alto
Female patrons of the Bowen mercantile
Omaha restaurant patrons
Possible Role doubling
Soprano: Edith Bowen, Woman 1
Mezzo: Sarah Ann Bowen, Jane Simmons, “Miss Young”
Alto: Adelle Bowen, Sue White
Contralto: Naomi, Woman 2
Tenor: Benton, worker 1, first banker, Man 1
Second Tenor: act 1: bodyguard, messenger, station attendant;
acts 2 & 3: Worker 2, Joe Simmons
Baritone: Worker 3, Counselor, Marshal, George White
Bass: prophet, Worker 4, second banker, Man 2