The Other Plays
The published version of George Ryga’s hit play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is widely available as a best-seller. Yet the work of one of Canada’s best known playwrights, canonized by critics and studied by students world-wide, remains largely absent from the Canadian stage; Ryga’s very reputation as a dramatist is an anomaly. This anthology, then, is a challenge, even a provocation, to examine Ryga in light of the other plays that constitute his substantial dramatic oeuvre. How was it that one of Canada’s pioneering playwrights became an outsider to the very theatre he had been instrumental in creating?
As a self-proclaimed figure of exile, as an “artist in resistance,” Ryga criticized issues of Canadian culture in numerous instances—particularly its colonized nature, even turning on the very theatre that had earlier nourished him. Employing disruptive elements such as flashbacks/forwards, poetic speeches, songs, sound motifs and changes of setting and weather, Ryga gives his plays a sense of restless movement, even a loss of control. His characters may be physically and spiritually trapped by their colonial uncertainties, but they have great capacity to envision a different tomorrow. It was a vision of tomorrow that, with the sole exception of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, the theatre of Ryga’s day had no wish to share.