Book Reviews

Book Review – “The Rez Sisters” by Tomson Highway 


Published – 1988

Summary from Goodreads –  “Winner of the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best New Play Nominated for the Governor General’s Award” This award-winning play by Native playwright Tomson Highway is a powerful and moving portrayal of seven women from a reserve attempting to beat the odds by winning at bingo. And not just any bingo. It is THE BIGGEST BINGO IN THE WORLD and a chance to win a way out of a tortured life. The Rez Sisters is hilarious, shocking, mystical and powerful, and clearly establishes the creative voice of Native theatre and writing in Canada today.

Thoughts – 

This is the first play that I have read by Tomson Highway. I read this for my “Introduction to Canadian Literature” class at Glendon, and I think the educational setting has helped me better my understanding of this play, because it would be hard to get if you’re not familiar with trickster figures

To sum it up, Tomson Highway’s take on his trickster figure (Nanabush) is, he writes: 

“Foremost among these beings is the ‘Trickster,’ as pivotal and important a figure in the Native world as Christ is in the realm of Christian mythology…Essentially a comic, clownish sort of character, he teaches us about the nature and the meaning of existence on the planet Earth; he straddles the consciousness of man and that of God, the Great Spirit.” 

Basically, Nanabush is here to teach us…but the question is who? Our take during class was that Tomson Highway uses a certain type of black comedy, where the audience is laughing at a certain scene, but then Nanabush will step in and turn it into a serious scene; for example (SPOILER ALERT!!) the scene where a fight breaks out between the women – it is all funny, meant to be comic, but then Zhaboonigan (a mentally challened adopted daughter) confesses to how she was raped with a screwdriver by a group of white males. Rape is a serious issue with all the Aboriginals, Natives, etc…so it is this type of comedy that brings these serious issues to light. 

What I really liked most about this was the characters. They definitely were very intriguing, and I like how they confessed to what they would do if they won that huge bingo prize, which made them very real and down-to-earth type of characters.  If this wasn’t the intended feeling Tomson Highway wanted, then he’s a genius, because this just makes the play THAT much more true to life than anything else. The realness of the characters connects well with the true issues that surround these people even to this day. 

Final Grade – 

I give this play 7/10. I truly did enjoy it, and I think it was a great perspective on the effects of common issues for these people – but I do have to say it was very hard to understand at times, and I thought that the material was a bit old. Bingo….I mean I know this was written a while ago, but I really don’t find a bunch of menopausal women thirsting after a bingo tournament very fun. I am a great believer in the book being better than the movie (in this case, play), but I would skip the script and just go straight to the would make much more sense, and you will probably appreciate this more than I did. 

Has anyone actually went to a live performance of this play? 


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