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A socially-engaged play by Wendy Lill, (premiered at Neptune Theatre in 1998). It begins with a funeral for the eldest daughter, Serena MacPhee, which is also a celebration of her humanitarian propensities, living and working amongst social outcasts. Her last written words to her family extol the value of community, of family, and of laughter-–experiencing personal joy as a communal celebration--although she has committed suicide in a moment of despair. Serena’s philosophy appears to be idealistic and simplistic, but it is finally understood by her aggressively ambitious younger sister, Merit.

Corker inhabits a domestic space-–“an upscale south end Halifax home”--and social relationships are played out by family members: a mother, her daughter and son-in-law, and her son. The mother is considered eccentric and unpredictable, “way out there.” Her upwardly mobile daughter, Merit, who works for a Conservative government that is imposing Reaganomics on its citizens, is preoccupied with her job, and has no time for family. Merit’s husband, Leonard, is preoccupied with job status and income. They are a middle-aged, childless couple-–white, upper middle-class, educated, whose values have been shaped by a materialistic culture. Merit’s brother, Gal, is a failed capitalist. He has squandered much of the family inheritance on ill-advised enterprises, and is becoming increasingly dependent.

This microcosm of middle-class Canadian society is disrupted by the intrusion of an outsider-–a mentally challenged homeless man named Corker-–one of Serena’s misfits. He invades the domestic space, and disrupts the patterns. He sees in Merit the possibility of another Serena, who has assisted him to find shelter and provided emotional support in the past. When he is rejected by Merit and Leonard, he becomes violent. The exclusion and denial of those elements which cannot be comfortably contained results in disruption and destruction. In her attempt to deal with Corker, first through his social worker, Glenny, and finally by coming to a kind of compromise whereby he is admitted under specific rules, Merit comes to examine her own corporatist values. Even Leonard begins to doubt the adequacy of his social engagement–- which amounts to charitable donations rather than action.

The response of Florence, the mother, to Corker, is more generous. Although she finally leaves with Corker when she is threatened with retirement to a senior’s home, her journey does not end with death, but with a return to the family: she will live with the repentant Merit and Leonard, and with Corker in a newly reconstituted family home.

Corker is an optimistic play; the personal resolutions are posited as viable alternatives to the corporatist agenda. Humanist values are transposed into a philosophy of social responsibility and personal enlightenment, similar to Serena’s “new-age” creed: “Light up the corners with your curiosity. Seek wisdom and tell the truth.”

Commentary by Anne Nothof, Athabasca University

Last updated 2013-08-27