George Ryga: A Post-Modern Canadian Dramaturge
George Ryga is now viewed by many theatre and literary critics as one of the most prominent Canadian dramaturges. His works are known for their allusions to other works of literature, their focus on social issues, and their use of metaphor. In this essay, I will discuss three of Ryga’s plays in order to illustrate his use of allusion, metaphor, and social commentary.
“The Ecstasy of Rita Joe” is a play about the experiences of an Indigenous woman in the Canadian justice system. The play is full of allusions to other works of literature, including “The Inferno” by Dante and “The Tempest” by Shakespeare. The allusions serve to illuminate the experiences of the protagonist, Rita Joe, and to draw parallels between her story and that of other characters in world literature.
The character of Rita Joe is based on a real-life Indigenous woman who was raped and killed by a white man. The play focuses on the double standard in the Canadian justice system whereby white men are often given lenient treatment while Indigenous women are treated harshly. This double standard is highlighted through the allusions to “The Inferno” and “The Tempest”. In “The Inferno”, Dante places sinners in Hell according to their crimes. Those who have committed violence are placed in the outer rings of Hell, while those who have committed fraud or treachery are placed in the inner rings. This hierarchy is mirrored in the Canadian justice system, where white men who commit violence against Indigenous women are often given shorter sentences than those who commit fraud or theft. In “The Tempest”, Shakespeare tells the story of a white man who usurps the rightful ruler of an island and enslaves its inhabitants. This story also reflects the experience of Rita Joe, who was taken from her home (the island), raped, and killed by a white man (the usurper).
The allusions in “The Ecstasy of Rita Joe” help to illustrate the injustice experienced by Rita Joe and other Indigenous women at the hands of the Canadian justice system. They also highlight Ryga’s skill as a post-modern dramaturge.
“East of Ely” is a play about a young man named Michael who leaves his small town in Saskatchewan in order to find work in Alberta. The play is set during the Great Depression, and it follows Michael’s journey from his home town to Edmonton and then back again. Along the way, he meets a variety of characters, including a hobo named Jimmie and a prostitute named Lily. The play culminates with Michael’s return home, where he finds that his family has been evicted from their farmhouse.
The play contains several references to trains, which function as a metaphor for Michael’s journey through life. Trains are often used as a symbol for progress or forward movement, and this is certainly true in “East of Ely”. Michael leaves his home town in order to find work, but he quickly discovers that there is no work to be found in Alberta. He then decides to head back east, towards home. The fact that he takes a train back home suggests that he has learned something from his journey and that he is now ready to return home and face his challenges.
Another interesting aspect of “East of Ely” is the way in which it uses allusion to comment on social issues. For example, when Michael arrives in Edmonton, he stays at a hotel called the “Hepburn House”. This is a clear reference to the famous actress Katharine Hepburn, who was known for her strong independent women characters. The fact that Michael stays at a hotel named after Hepburn suggests that he is looking for a strong independent woman to help him out. However, he soon discovers that the women he meets in Edmonton are not what he is looking for. They are either prostitutes or women who are struggling to make ends meet. As a result, Michael returns home, where he finds that his family is in a similar situation to the women he met in Edmonton.
“The Impossibles” is a play about two brothers, John and Robert, who are living in different parts of Canada. John is a lawyer who is trying to make partner at his law firm, while Robert is an artist who is trying to make a living selling his paintings. The play focuses on the relationship between the two brothers and their different view of the world.
The main conflict in the play arises when John tries to get Robert to sign a contract that would give John ownership of all of Robert’s paintings. Robert refuses to sign the contract, and the two brothers argue about the importance of art and money.
Throughout the play, Ryga uses the metaphor of the law to comment on the relationship between art and money. He suggests that, just as the law can be used to exploit people, so too can art be used to exploit artists. This is seen in the way John tries to get Robert to sign over ownership of his paintings. He is essentially trying to exploit Robert’s talent for financial gain. However, Robert refuses to sign the contract, suggesting that he values his art more than money. In the end, John decides not to force Robert to sign the contract, suggesting that he also values their relationship more than money.
“The Paternal Order” is a play about a young woman named Sarah who is living in a small town in Ontario. Sarah is pregnant and she does not want to marry her child’s father. She decides to leave her home and move to Toronto, where she hopes to have her child without getting married. The play follows Sarah’s journey from her small town to Toronto and back again. Along the way, she meets a variety of characters, including a pregnant woman named Mary and a doctor named James.
The play contains several references to the state machine, which serves as a metaphor for the patriarchal state. The state machine is a metaphor for the way in which the patriarchal state controls women’s bodies through laws and institutions such as marriage and motherhood. In “The Paternal Order”, Sarah decides not to get married and have her child within the confines of the patriarchal state. Instead, she chooses to have her child outside of wedlock and without getting married. This decision puts her at odds with the state machine, which tries to control her through various institutions such as marriage and motherhood. In the end, Sarah decides to return home, suggesting that she has learned something from her journey and that she is now ready to face her challenges within the confines of the patriarchal state.
George Ryga is a skilled Canadian dramaturge who uses allusion, metaphor, and social commentary to explore important issues in his plays. His works are excellent examples of post-modern Canadian drama.
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