by Lynn on October 5, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jordan Tannahill
Directed by Erin Brubaker and Cara Spooner
Lighting by Kimberley Purtell
Composition and sound by Christopher Willes
Cast: Madison Baines
Theo Gallaro
Ofa Gasesepe
Davinder Malhi
Jovana Miladinović
Jessica Munk
Franco Pang
Mick (Micaela) Robertson
Rashida Shaw
Melisa Sofi

A sharply written, beautifully directed and performed play about the complex, unsettling world of teenagers and a mystery they are desperate to conceal.

The Story. Concord Floral is an abandoned greenhouse in the suburbs. A couple who sold flowers owned it but then let it go when one of them died. It’s now a place where teens would go to party, have sex, smoke-up and escape the scrutiny of adults. On one such occasion two friends, Rosa and Nearly Wild, wander through the broken glass of the place and discover a body of a young woman at the bottom of one of the dried up wells. The shock of seeing the body is so startling one of them drops her cell phone which then disappears into the body below. What follows is the chilling unravelling of the mystery of who the body is and how a group of friends are implicated in the woman’s demise.

The Production. The production takes place at the Bluma Appel theatre which in its present set up is too big for the purposes of this small production. So the space has been reconfigured in that the audience and the cast are situated on the Bluma Appel stage. The audience sits in bleachers at one end of the stage, facing the rest of the stage where the production will unfold. The playing space is a large square of green that is illuminated by the lights of Kimberley Purtell. Strangely there is no credit for the set designer.

While a beautiful soprano’s voice (Eleanor Hart) echoes out of the space a young woman (Jessica Munk) in her underwear is illuminated as she stands in the balcony of the theatre-proper. Once that image is established the lights go down on her—with us wondering who she is—and then the lights go up on the playing space in front of us. Nine teenagers representing a cross- section of ethnicities, more women than men, all with different attitudes, stand at the back.

They come forward one by one to begin the journey of the play, each speaking one word followed by another word spoken by another actor and so on until the whole thought of a sentence is established. It’s to the huge credit of directors Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner that they have guided these teen actors (some with experience and some without) to speak their word with split second timing. The result is an ensemble of young actors in complete tune with each other.

Rosa (Ofa Gasesepe) and Nearly Wild (Jovana Miladinović) make the discovery of the body in Concord Floral. They vow not to tell anyone of their discovery and certainly not the police. That last bit makes one squirm uncomfortably. But of course the secret gets out and soon their group of nine all know about the body in the well. Then matters ramp up when one of the two teens gets a call from the cell phone that was dropped into the well, into the abdomen of the dead person there. Who is she? She knows these people?

The group of teens speak of a shadow that is slowly covering them. Kimberley Purtell’s evocative lighting has the group standing in the back, dappled with shadows and dim light—as if they are being covered slowly by the encroaching shadows.

Brubacher and Spooner use simple chairs to establish the attitudes of the teens. Often they sit in small groups with their friends. Occasionally they sit in a configuration that excludes others. Characterizations are established efficiently and clearly. And while the level of acting experience varies both Brubacher and Spooner get performances from these young actors that are impressive.

Even when actors play an inanimate object, the Greenhouse (Rashida Shaw), the Couch (Mick (Micaela) Robertson), or non-human, the Fox (Madison Baines), the Bobolink (Davinder Malhi) each actor instils a humanness and compassion into the part.

Comment. Playwright Jordan Tannahill has used The Decameron by 14th Century writer Giovanni Boccaccio as his framework for Concord Floral. In The Decameron 10 young people try to seek refuge from the plague in an abandoned villa. There they told 100 stories over the time they were there. For Tannahill’s purposes only 10 stories are told and they are powerful and unsettling.
Tannahill has captured the language and slang of teens that is secretive, particular and inclusive to them that excludes those not in the group. He has put us right in the middle of that world, with its petty jealousies, cruelties, isolation, bullying, neediness, innocence and naivety. It is a particular world that is both troubling and compelling.

In the course of the play the Greenhouse quietly gives a statistic “that 10% of any population is cruel; 10 percent is merciful and the remaining eighty per cent can be moved in either direction.” And the Greenhouse that has seen so much activity then offers that (she) has a lot of hope for the future.
With his exquisitely written, deeply thoughtful play, Jordan Tannahill sends us out into the night thinking about those teenagers, the body in the well, those stats and the hope for the future.

Concord Floral is an important play that should be seen by teenagers, their parents, their grandparents and anyone familiar with all of them.

Produced by the Canadian Stage Company

Opened: Oct. 4, 2016.
Closes: Oct. 16, 2016.
Cast: 10; 3 men, 7 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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