Memories, though invisible, are very real

“Go easy on the references to the Holocaust,” Jonathon Young says to me over the phone. “People will go into the theatre expecting it.

“This play is much more about memory and how our actions affect our descendants.”

The Invisible Life of Joseph Finch is, indeed, about re-creating one man’s life for the benefit of a daughter he may never meet, a daughter who may not even know he is alive and looking for her.

“No doubt his life is affected dramatically by the Holocaust,” says Young. “But it is more about the people who follow that event.”

The story was inspired by news reports of a French man finding his sister after 50 years. Serge Bennathan wondered how he would tell his sister the story of his life.

Bennathan wrote the play, choreographed it and performed it.

Now it is Young’s turn.

But Bennathan is a dancer and Young is not, although he is a physical actor and understands how movement can tell a story. The play had all stage direction stripped from it. Then Bennathan and Young started all over again.

“There is something more vulnerable,” says Young of his performance as a non-dancer. “The physicality is borne out of the intention of the language, and the movements are more attached to the story.”

This is where the bending of events through the eyes of a child adds layers to this complex story.

“Some very everyday events are created into battlegrounds,” says Young. “It is true of children as they see even the making of bread as a battle.

“So, just telling about his father riding a bicycle becomes epic.”

Then there is circumstance not understood by a child who knows of no other life: “They come from a very poor family and made macaroons and sold them on the street.

“They lived in a tiny apartment and had nothing but the pleasure he takes in simple things.

“These people turn into mythic characters.”

As a result, there are “some beautiful portraits” in this play.

And humour.

“Absolutely there is humour; Joseph Finch has an appreciation of the absurdity of life.

“His life, like any life, is a mix of humour and tragedy and the everyday.”

This is a layered piece. And in telling the story, Young portrays many characters, but Joseph Finch is the “epicentre”. This makes it all the more complex.

But trying to find those connections between the audience and the performer is an exercise that will reap the most power from the story.

“Everyone needs to maintain focus that doesn’t break; there are no intermissions, no blackouts; it is something we hold between us, aloft, for an hour and 20 minutes.”

The audience will find context with memories of their own loved ones.

“This allows the audience to come into the story instead of having it pushed at them.

“Through it, people can get a sense of their own past and their own stories.

“That’s when the play takes on a life of its own.”

The Invisible Life of Joseph Finch is presented by the Yukon Arts Centre Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 4 and 5, at 8 p.m.

Tickets are available at the Yukon Arts Centre Box Office and Arts Underground.

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