Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Colours in the Dark was a milestone in James Reaney’s career as a dramatist: It gave him his first professional success when it was produced at Stratford, Ontario, in 1967, Canada’s centennial year. It was his first play to explore extensively the rich possibilities of using multimedia devices to engage and expand his viewers’ imagination, and it was his first play to abandon almost altogether conventional narrative and plot, providing cohesion instead through an intricate reticulation of dramatic and poetic images and an intertwining and overlapping of times, places, and characters. In both earlier and later plays, he has eschewed the conventional and the realistic, but not to the extent that he does in Colours in the Dark.

Like many of his other plays, Colours in the Dark is embedded in Reaney’s Southwestern Ontario, but it is the play that most readily transcends the regional and national through its grand design of encompassing the history of humankind as told in the Bible and of probing humankind’s collective past and ancestral memory.

The play occupies a place between two phases in Reaney’s development. In such earlier works as The Killdeer (pr. 1960), The Sun and the Moon (pb. 1962), and The Easter Egg (pr. 1962), many of the devices and themes of Colours in the Dark are evident. There one finds the free verse of poetic drama, the dramatic and poetic imagery that...

(The entire section is 490 words.)