Tomson Highway

Start Free Trial

In Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing, analyze Highway's theatrical style with things such as his use of music, lighting, sound, multiple levels of the stage and the magical transformations by Nanabush.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The staging and lighting, etc., that Highway uses in Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing provide information on two levels: the literal and the symbolic. 

There are a few small jokes, but this is not, overall, a humorous play—in fact...

...the consequences of cultural collision are…radical and destructive.

Most of the themes presented in the play are connected to Native culture, as...

...Highway uses Native humor, language, and mythology to address the effects of European colonization on Native North American cultures, the realities of reservation life, and contemporary Native issues.

Major themes are the disrespect shown to women, a turning away from Native culture, and the ever-present power of women (in general, overlooked by almost all of the male characters in the play). While there is behavior and dialogue to present these themes, they are supported through a mystical representation involving Nanabush, taking place on another plane of existence where Nanabush projects the spirits of several women in the production.

Nanabush is a magical, mythological and changeable character central to Native culture—a "trickster" and a "pivotal and important figure." Nanabush is not recognizable (as Nanapush) in the real world of the play, though Simon seems to catch a glimpse of her near the story's end.

In these situations, there is different lighting used: a lavender color covers Nanabush. For Native American tribes, purple has strong otherworldly associations. It is...

…a sacred color [that] symbolised power, mystery and magic.

We might assume that this color is also similarly symbolic to Native Canadians.

A central symbol in the play is the jukebox, and it is around this machine or on her perch—on a level staged above that of the actual world—that Nanabush's actions supports several of the play's themes.

...the lower [level represents] ...the domain of the "real" Wasaychigan Hill. [...] The upper level of the set was almost exclusively the realm of Nanabush.

Nanabush is first presented as the spirit of Gazelle who, at the start of Act One, is just leaving an adulterous encounter with the now sleeping Zachary (who spends the rest of the play trying to find a way out of trouble because of this liaison). Stage direction tells us:

It is Nanabush, as the spirit of Gazelle Nataways, dressing to leave.

Music is also used, primarily Kitty Well's "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." Literally, it is just a bar song, but symbolically the song's lyrics are thematically supportive: the men predominately have the power, acting upon their basic physical needs with no thought to the women in their lives. For example, Black Lady Halked is ignored as, in her final stage of pregnancy, she spends days drinking at a bar (while the father—and bartender—Big Joey, ignores her). Well's song reminds us that men are often to blame for a woman's difficulties:

From the start most every heart that's ever broken,

Was because there always was a man to blame...

...Too many times married men think they're still single,

That has caused many a good girl to go wrong.

This music highlights suffering experienced by women at the hands of a man—including Black Lady Halked sixteen years before, and then young Patsy Pegahmagahbow as well, in the present.

These theatrical devices support the play's dominant themes with song lyrics, and also by creating a sense of unreality with lighting and stage construction, etc., with Nanabush.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial