A trial of Rita Joe

Excerpt from The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by George Ryga

Photo by JJ Ying | Accessed on Unsplash.com

This is an excerpt from the play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by George Ryga.

Magistrate – I ask you for the last time, Rita Joe… Do you want a lawyer?

Rita – (defiantly) What for?…I can take care of myself

Magistrate – The charge against you this morning is prostitution. Why did you not return to your people as you said you would?

(The light on the backstage dies. Rita Joe stands before the Magistrate and the Policeman. She is contained in a pool of light before them.)

Rita – (nervous, with despair) I tried… I tried…

(The Magistrate settles back into his chair and takes a folder from his desk, which he opens and studies.)

Magistrate – Special Constable Eric Wilson has submitted a statement to the effect that on June 18th he and Special Constable Schneider approached you on Fourth Avenue at nine-forty in the evening…

Policeman – We were impersonating two deck-hands newly arrived in the city…

Magistrate – You were arrested an hour later on charges of prostitution.

(The Magistrate holds the folder threateningly and looks down at her. Rita Joe is defiant.)

Rita – That’s a goddamned lie!

Magistrate – (sternly, gesturing to the Policeman) This is a police statement. Surely you don’t think a mistake was made?

Rita – (peering into the light above her, shuddering) Everything in this room is like ice…How can you stay alive working here? …I’m so hungry I want to throw up…

Magistrate – You have heard the statement, Rita Joe…Do you deny it?

Rita – I was going home, trying to find the highway…I knew those two were cops the moment I saw them…I told them to go f…fly a kite! They got sore then an’ started pushing me around…

Magistrate – (patiently now, waving down the objection of the Policeman) Go on.

Rita – They followed me around until a third cop drove up. An’ then they arrest me.

Magistrate – Arrested you…Nothing else?

Rita – They stuffed five dollar bills in my pockets when they had me in the car… I ask you, mister, when are they gonna charge cops like that with contributing to…

Policeman – Your Worship…

Magistrate – (irritably, indicating the folder on the table before him) Now it’s your word against this! You need references…People who know you…who will come to court to substantiate what you say…today! That is the process of legal argument!

Rita – Can I bum a cigarette someplace?

Magistrate – No. You can’t smoke in court.

(The Policeman smiles and exits.)

Rita – Then give me a bed to sleep on, or is the sun gonna rise an’ rise until it burns a hole in my head?

(Guitar music cues softly in the background.)

Have you read this play? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe – Summary

Here is the play summary from StoryGraph:

Rita Joe is a Native girl who leaves the reservation for the city, only to die on skid row as a victim of white men’s violence and paternalistic attitudes towards First Nations peoples. As perhaps the best-known contemporary Canadian play and a poetic drama of enormous theatrical power, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe had a major influence in awakening consciousness to the “Indian problem” both in whites and Natives themselves.

Cast of five women and 15 men. With a preface by Chief Dan George.

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe premiered November 23, 1967 at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Copyright © 1970 by George Ryga.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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