An oft-repeated metaphor in “The Rez Sisters” has the Native American heroines longing for paved roads on the dusty reservation they call home. Do they want escape or a simple reprieve from the surrounding dirtiness? Who knows? All playwright Tomson Highway can muster for pavement is a good intention or two.
The seven women — all sisters or half-sisters living on Ontario’s Wasaychigan Hill Indian Reserve (the “rez” of the title) — bemoan their unquestionably sorry lot in life while planning a rare journey to Toronto to participate in an event called the “World’s Biggest Bingo.” The million-dollar jackpot would be nothing less than salvation for each of the women, whether to purchase a long-dreamed-for oven or finance a search for a long-lost child.
Playwright Highway gives each of his characters clearly defined personalities , although of the one-note variety. There’s the mannish, no-nonsense leader of the group, her fem sister, a neighborhood busybody, a tough-girl punk, a retarded woman, a silly would-be country singer and a cancer-stricken mother of 14. Highway gives all of them wonderfully evocative names — Philomena Moosetail , Pelajia Patchnose — and precious little depth.
The thin storyline mostly has the women arguing and gossiping as they plan their trip, with occasional interruptions as the characters by turn address the audience to tell sad stories of poverty, lost love, failed dreams, rape and looming death. Highway fails to weave these tales into anything beyond a numbing collection of hard-luck stories, and an annoying audience participation gimmick during the long-in-coming bingo game is welcome only to break the play’s tedium.
Direction and acting is generally sub-professional (often worse), clear exception being Sheila Tousey’s clearheaded turn as the terminally ill sister.
“Rez” is the second installment of the seven-play cycle Highway began with “Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing.” Subsequent efforts will need much improvement if the playwright hopes to maintain audience interest.