This dissertation will explore the political and theatrical ramifications which occur through Canadian Cree playwright Tomson Highway's appropriation of a dominant Western structural form. Within the field of art music, sonata form is accepted as the most important structural design to emerge not only during the classical period, but arguably throughout musical history. Its dramatic potential in instrumental music is unrivalled, and perhaps only the theatricality and emotion of opera can equal or surpass its ability to elicit this potential.
As a trained concert pianist Tomson Highway has long acknowledged his musical training, referring frequently to the influence music, and music structure, has played in his continually developing craft. To date, however, he has never made either a direct or implied statement acknowledging his appropriation of music form as a basis for the structure of his theatrical works. In an interview with Highway I conducted at the University of Queensland in 1996 he proposed instead that his two plays, The Rez Sisters and its sequel Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing are merely the results of a subconscious influence. He makes the point that they are simply a reflection of the dramatic potential inherent in musical form, and that theatre also utilises elements such as rhythms, thematic counterpoints and dynamic shifts. Moreover, he refers to sonata form as structurally compatible to the narrative forms popular in a wide variety of in literary and theatrical texts.
It will be argued in this dissertation that Highway's precise use of sonata form in The Rez Sisters goes far beyond 'influence' and that it is in fact a much more complex appropriation - one that involves using one of Beethoven's scores - the 1st movement from his Septet (Opus 20) - as a structural template. It will be further argued that his denial of formal appropriation indicates a political act - that of both cultural transgression and subversion. Central to this argument is a close analysis of The Rez Sisters as sonata form and the ramifications Highway's approach has for post-colonial discourse. The dissertation will include theoretical approaches from post-colonial and literary fields as well as those from musicology. It will also examine the playwright's own claims and comments regarding the influence and importance music has played in his theatre.