Tomson Highway is a) my favourite Native playwright and b) in my top five Canadian playwrights of all time. I'd even go as far to say he's right up there in my top five favourite global playwrights of all time. To say I was excited about seeing Factory Theatre's latest mounting of The Rez Sisters would be an understatement.
This is actually the very first time I've even seen a production, although I studied the play extensively in Drama school and had seen the movie it hasn't been produced in Toronto in 25 years, nor in any of the other cities I have lived in. It was well worth the wait. I thought the multi racial casting was a interesting choice, although I wasn't sure at first. I actually read in a review that the reason it hasn't been produced in 25 years is because there has been much arguing about whether or not to cast all native or not. The blocking was wonderful, with amazing multi-levelled tableaux, especially in the scene where the women are all trying to raise money by doing as many odd jobs as they can. The set was sparse and utilitarian but very creative. I loved the costumes, they were quite evocative. I absolutely loved the audience participation, when we all played a game of bingo in the second half, using bingo cards found in our programs. Billy Merasty was especially good as Nanabush/The Trickster turned campy bingo caller. Apparently, his uncle, Rene Highway (also the playwright's brother) originated this role.
I only have a few critiques. I thought that Djennie Laguerre rushed the part of Annie Cook just a smidge. Because French is the actor's first language, this sometimes resulted in dropped lines, or somewhat unintelligible phrases. I also thought that Michaela Washburn didn't play the bisexuality in her role as Emily Dictionary enough. She was very butch, which made her softer side hard to believe.
I always feel closer to plays that I have read and workshopped extensively. This production came very close, but still was lacking a little. I really hope Factory mounts Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing (the companion play to The Rez Sisters featuring 7 men and a female Nanabush with the game being hockey) next season.