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 instancesparticularly 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.
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About the Author
In 1967, George Ryga soared to national fame with The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, which has since evolved into a modern classic. A self-proclaimed artist in resistance, Ryga takes the role of a fierce and fearless social commentator in most of his plays, and his work is renowned for its vivid and thrilling theatricality. George Ryga died of stomach cancer in Summerland, BC, in 1987 and will always be remembered and cherished as one of Canada’s most prolific and powerful writers. His memory was publicly honoured at the BC Book Prizes ceremony in 1993.
James Hoffman is a Professor of Theatre at the University College of the Cariboo, located in Kamloops, BC, and the editor of the scholarly journal Textual Studies in Canada. His research interests include Canadian theatre studies, post-colonial theory and the history and culture of theatre in BC. A recent notable production was of Nootka Sound; or, Britain Prepar’d, an eighteenth-century work which Hoffman himself labels as “British Columbia’s first play.”