The set for The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is minimal, consisting mainly of a circular ramp, which wraps the playing area from front to back and around the sides, and a Magistrate’s chair and desk, which dominate stage right and are enclosed within the confines of the ramp. A cyclorama backstage creates a sense of compression of stage into audience, thus eliminating the usual dramatic convention of a fourth wall between artifice and reality. It also serves to confuse the issue of who is on trial. Members of the audience are forced to become jurists, if not defendants. This encircling of both the stage and the theater as a whole symbolizes the vicious cycle which George Ryga suggests relations between whites and American Indians have become. It also symbolizes the American Indian belief in the cyclicity of time. Time is compressed in this play: Past and future frequently interrupt the present. Dialogue is composed in such a way that it reinforces this ideal of cyclic patterns. Characters appear and reappear in the private world of Rita’s memories, dreams, and fears, as well as in the public realm of the trial. Their voices combine, fuguelike, to illuminate her past, condemn her present, and foreshadow her future. Repetition is a key element in the structure of the play; some of the Singer’s verses are repeated over and over, as is the sound of the train whistle.
Language and music are the main devices by which the play’s themes are realized. Ryga...
(The entire section is 517 words.)