Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

George Ryga's "Hail Mary" and Tomson Highway's Nanabush: Two Paradigms of Religion and Theatre in Canada

Academic journal article Theatre Research in Canada

George Ryga's "Hail Mary" and Tomson Highway's Nanabush: Two Paradigms of Religion and Theatre in Canada

Article excerpt

In 1967 George Ryga wrote The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, ironically celebrating Canada's centennial with the first Canadian play to portray the tragedy of our aboriginal peoples; it subsequently became a canonical staple of Canadian theatre. Depicting the martyrdom of a Native girl on the streets of Vancouver, it was a powerful consciousness-raising experience for its white, middleclass audiences. Nevertheless, the play simplistically sentimentalised the aboriginal plight as the victimisation of passive children by irresponsible white parents: a Eurocentric, patriarchal paradigm that reflected the Department of Indian Affairs' assimilationist policies.

Almost twenty years later, Tomson Highway's The Rez Sisters dramatised the paradigm of Native writers telling their own stories. A comedic revisioning of Native tragedy, it portrays seven Manitoulin Island "rez sisters" who raise money to attend THE BIGGEST BINGO IN THE WORLD; it foregrounds matriarchal empowerment and valorises Native spirituality through the omnipresence of Nanabush, the Ojibway Trickster. Although both plays end with a death, the hopeless inadequacy of the priest's requiem for Rita Joe, "Hail Mary, Mother of God ... pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death," has been replaced by Nanabush's final dance, "merrily and triumphantly" celebrating a vibrant Native culture.

En 1967, George Ryga a ecrit The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, la premiere piece de theatre canadienne traitant des difficultes des peuples autochtones au Canada. De facon ironique, elle a ete composee l'annee meme du centieme anniversaire du pays. Par la suite, la piece est devenue un incontournable du theatre canadien. Illustrant le martyre d'une jeune fille autochtone dans les rues de Vancouver, la piece avait emu l'auditoire et engendre une prise de conscience de la part des spectateurs blancs provenant de la classe moyenne. Toutefois, de facon simpliste, elle a empreint de sentimentalisme la misere des autochtones en la representant sous la forme de represailles exercees contres des enfants passifs par leurs parents blancs et irresponsables. Il s'agissait donc d'un paradigme patriarcal et euro centriste qui refletait les politiques d'assimilation du ministere des Affaires indiennes.

Environ vingt ans plus tard, le paradigme des ecrivains autochtones racontant leurs propres histoires a ete mis en scene dans The Rez Sisters par Tomson Highway. Cette interpretation humoristique de la tragedie autochtone presente sept << femmes de la reserve >> de l'Ile Manitoulin qui veulent amasser les fonds necessaires pour participer au PLUS GRAND BINGO DU MONDE. La piece met ainsi l'accent sur les pouvoirs matriarcaux et valorise la spiritualite autochtone via l'omnipresence du joueur de tour ojibway, Nanabush. Les deux pieces se terminent avec une mort, mais le requiem inadequat et sans-espoir que prononce le pretre pour Rita Joe, << Sainte Marie, mere de dieu ... priez pour nous pauvres pecheurs, maintenant et a l'heure de notre mort, >> a ete remplace par Nanabush qui danse << joyeusement et triomphalement, >> celebrant ainsi la culture vibrante des autochtones.

In 1967 the Vancouver Playhouse commissioned George Ryga, a little-known socialist playwright of Ukrainian background, to write The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, ironically celebrating Canada's centennial with the first major Canadian play to dramatise the tragedy of its aboriginal Indian peoples. Also the first English production to open the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in 1969, the revised text went on to become a canonical staple of Canadian schools and theatres in subsequent decades (Innes 48). The play depicts the martyrdom of a young Native girl on the streets of Vancouver. Impoverished and exploited, she is arraigned for prostitution and subjected to the multiple trials which structure the play, interspersed with her past memories of carefree childhood times on the reserve in the Cariboo. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.