Stage Door Review 2023

Corporate Finch

Tuesday, July 11, 2023


written & directed by Taylor Marie Graham

• Port Albert Productions, Toronto Fringe Festival, Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, Toronto

July 5-16, 2023;

• Here For Now Festival, Stratford Perth Museum, Stratford

July 20-22, 2023;

• Sault Ste. Marie Museum, Fringe North, Sault Ste. Marie

August 16-20, 2023

Finch: “I can tell you’re worried about him”

In 2021 Here For Now Theatre’s New Works Festival presented Post Alice by Taylor Marie Graham which I called “one of the most exciting new Canadian plays I’ve seen for some time”. I was therefore particularly excited to see that a new play by Graham was going to be presented at the Toronto Fringe Festival (and several other festivals). I am sorry to say that I was as disappointed with Corporate Finch as I was exciting by Post Alice. Graham has directed the play with close attention to detail and it is very well acted by its cast of two but, at least at the Relaxed Performance I saw, I had no more insight by the end into why the action was happening than I did after the first ten minutes.

Graham herself calls the play a “thriller” and it falls into the subcategory of that genre in which women take revenge on a helpless or unarmed man. Examples include Don Siegel’s film The Beguiled (1971), Stephen King’s novel Misery (1987) and Ariel Dorfman’s play Death and the Maiden (1991).

In Corporate Finch, the title character, whose real name is Courtney Finch, lures Jake Schneider, a boy who was once her friend, away from a party in St. Jacobs, Ontario to an abandoned factory. Since the two have not seen each other for a long time, Jake is hoping that Finch, as he calls her, is seeking a reconciliation after the event that separated them. Finch has other plans.

We feel we are about to find out what exactly this event was, when Jake faints and remains unconscious for quite some time. At this point Finch speaks directly to the audience and tells us she knows we must be worried about Jake but that we should not worry. Suddenly falling asleep is a condition he lives with. Graham may intend that Jake has narcolepsy but the word is never mentioned.

All through school this would happen and when he was “out”, children would play tricks on him and Jake would wake up to find himself, wet or naked or holding dog faeces. The odd thing about this situation, Finch tells us, is that when Jake would wake up he would never be angry but would laugh at what weird ideas his schoolmates had had. As if to demonstrate this fact, Finch cuts Jake hand with a knife and, indeed, he laughs at what she’s done even though he’s bleeding.

All we can glean from the dialogue is that someone forced Finch to do something to Jake when he was in one of his unconscious states that was so bad it caused her to be moved to another school. Graham never makes clear what Finch did that was so bad. She also never explains why Finch should focus all her anger on Jake, who was asleep, as she has told us, rather than on the person, likely Jake’s friend Liam, who forced Finch to do the unknown terrible thing.

In thrillers, even when the revenger is deranged, the revenger has some reason for taking revenge, Here, since Graham tells us neither what happened nor why Finch should be so angry at Jake, the victim of her deed, we have no way to make sense of the action or of the play as a whole.

Graham gives the characters potentially symbolic attributes but never follows through on the symbolism. Finch tells us that Jake is descended from the very Jakob Snider (1791-1865), who founded the town later named St. Jacobs, where the action is set, and who apparently had the same condition of sudden-onset sleep that the present-day Jake does. She says Jake was raised a Mennonite but that he always had “one foot in and one foot out of tradition”. In a 50-minute-long play every word should have some function, but it is impossible to see how these details Finch relate in any way to the action or expand its meaning.

As for Finch, we learn that she mumbled her name when she first met Jake as a little girl in school so that he thought she said “Corporate” instead of “Courtney”. Since then, “Corporate” became her nickname at the school. As with Jake’s background, this strange information ought to have some resonance within the play, but Graham gives it none. Does Graham actually mean the play to be some obscure allegory about the corporatization of the quaint village of St. Jacobs that once consisted only of privately owned businesses?

Graham does play up associations with Finch’s family name since she notes that Finch has collected an assortment of finch species from across North America in a cage in this abandoned factory. But Graham needs a refresher course in ornithology. The play claims that finches’ favourite food is blueberries which Finch herself continually eats in some sort of would-be symbolism. Graham emphasizes this point despite the fact North American finches don’t eat berries but seeds and grains. Only the Neotropical species eat fruit and insects. At one point Finch torments Jacob with finches like, as she says, in some Hitchcock movie (i.e., The Birds, 1963). But again Graham tantalizes without resolution. She gives us no clue what the film, Finch’s method of torment or Finch’s mistakenly finch-like habits have to do with the great secret from the past involving her two characters.

Despite the fact that the play, once it is over, has failed most of the basic rules of satisfactory storytelling, what keeps us watching are the intense performances of the two talented actors paying their enigmatic characters – Rainbow Kester as Finch and Matthew Ivanoff as Jake. Kester has a delightfully insidious way of appearing to be helpful, as in her two long speeches to the audience, when in fact, her Finch seems to enjoy increasing the very anxiety she claims to be reducing.

Ivanoff has the thankless task of “sleeping” on stage for two long periods while Finch talks about Jake. When Jake is awake, Ivanoff lends him quite a complex personality. He shows Jake as playful and would-be flirtatious while at the same time suspicious and fearful. Far too late in the action, Graham shows that Jake can be moved to sudden violence, a factor, if shown earlier, that would have made the “thriller” considerably more thrilling.

All we know about the play when it begins it that we suppose it will end unhappily. To Graham’s credit, we don’t know who will be the victim. To her discredit we also don’t know the motivation for the pair’s actions either in the past or in the present. Dramaturgically, it is intriguing to give the presumed antagonist Finch speeches of direct address to the audience. This makes us view the play as a play and it links Finch to other characters in drama such as the Vice figure in medieval drama or Shakespeare’s Richard III, who is derived from the Vice, who also directly address the audience. The difference is that the Vice or Richard III always have a definite reason for their actions. To our great frustration, Graham’s Finch has none.

Christopher Hoile

Photos: Matthew Ivanoff and Rainbow Kester. © 2023 Port Albert Productions.

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