Do you remember being bullied as a teenager? Pretty much anyone who was ever a victim can probably relate their experiences down to the last detail – the pain, the humiliation, the embarrassment. But what about if you were the bully? By all accounts, the flow of time for bullies is elastic and forgiving, and the memories of the terrible things they once did fade easily in the glow of victory.
Or so it would seem. And this is my one issue with the otherwise stellar Concord Floral.
Set in an abandoned greenhouse and adjacent field in Vaughan the ten teenage actors of Jordan Tannahill’s Concord Floral tell the story of a prank gone awry. A cellphone gets dropped, onto and then into, the remains of a dead girl. As she contacts the girls who discovered her via the left behind phone, the teens must come to terms with the energy and emotions she creates, ultimately accepting their own roles in what happened to her.
Tannahill and co-directors Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner do a magnificent job pulling professional performances out of a group of teens from youth workshops at Tarragon Theatre. The cast play various teens, animals, a couch that has seen much action, and even the greenhouse itself, with little in the way of props or set other than a large rectangle of astroturf, ten plastic chairs and the creative use of iPhones.
Lighting by Kimberly Purtell and interactive sound design by Christopher Willes that includes recordings made in fields, yards, suburban homes, the former Concord Floral location (which was a real place), and samples of cast member’s voices create impressive and evocative settings (the audience listens to cicada drones waiting for the play to begin).
In fact, the only time the piece feels stilted is when the dialogue is comprised of typical teenage banter – the liberal splatter of “like” in every sentence comes across as fake and out of place.
Concord Floral is also meant as a reflection of a 13th century work by Giovanni Boccaccio entitled Decameron in which ten youth flee the plague and live in an abandoned villa for 100 days. The greenhouse is meant to be this generation’s secret place where the teens come of age; having sex, smoking weed and partying without the prying eyes of parents watching. This parallel is likely more obvious to those who have read the book, but lack of familiarity doesn’t take away from the plot of the play.
Throughout the story, the two main characters, best friends Nearly and Rosa (Erum Khan and Jessica Munk) are constantly at odds, arguing about their discovery, feeling the backlash of the gossip about it (did they really find a body, or are they lying?), and being pulled apart as Nearly continues to be contacted by the dead girl, even after the phone is disconnected.
The girls come to realize that their situation is of their own making, but 9th grade was so long ago (in high school terms) that it takes a huge shift in energy that disrupts the whole neighbourhood for them to remember their actions. This is the only part that doesn’t jive for me – are bullies really able to forget how they’ve hurt someone? How is it that both Nearly and Rosa don’t remember what happened to that girl, at that party, only a couple of years past?
Additional memorable performances by Eartha Masek-Kelly as the Fox, Troy Sarju as Bobolink and Liam Sullivan whose soliloquy about hooking up with the father of a classmate for sex at the old greenhouse reminds us that teenage issues really are the same everywhere, city, suburb or country.
Concord Floral – Written by Jordan Tannahill, created and directed by Erin Brubacher, Cara Spooner and Jordan Tannahill (Suburban Beast/Why Not Theatre) runs at the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West) to October 26th. $15 – $20. 416-538-0988