The Collected Plays of Gwen Pharis Ringwood
Jenifer Lepiano was a writer and drama teacher in Toronto.
Here at last are the collected plays of the grande dame of prairie theatre. For almost 50 years, beginning in 1937 when even the notion of a regional theatre was imported, Gwen Pharis Ringwood has written about the west, giving her characters the voices of the real people who struggled through dust and war and change not just to survive but to survive with dignity. In her first play, “One Man’s House,” a Polish-Canadian family faces up to the demands of a workers’ strike. In her most recent, “The Furies,” six Indian girls carry out a desperate act of vengeance on their French-Canadian lover. Between these two plays farmers, doctors and cowboys, newspapermen, teachers and entrepreneurs, husbands and wives, parents and children, grapple with destiny. Their victories and defeats are measured by that familiar Canadian deity, the land, godlike in its power to destroy and bind and bless, and, in Ringwood’s personal alchemy, the touchstone of human values.
This collection reveals some of the formal concerns in the development of Canadian drama as well. There is a movement away from a detailed naturalistic stagecraft into barer, more suggestive sets, an experimentation with choral voice and epic time, a mingling of natural and poetic speech, yet always a firm underpinning of social realism. Some of the plays have aged awkwardly, by reason of style or sentiment. Others, such as “Still Stands the House” and “Dark Harvest,” loom from the page with chilling presence. All are stageworthy, full of nicely realized dramatic moments, both comic and tragic, and of characters that every one of us will recognize in some way as our own.
Both Margaret Laurence and George Ryga have written introductions to this collection, indication enough that here is a volume of great interest to Canadian readers.