Concord Floral: a youthful ritual of psychic proportions. Spellbinding!!

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo: Courtesy Suburban Beast and NAC’ Ottawa.

Concord Floral was inspired by an existing greenhouse in Vaughan (in the Toronto area ) that was demolished in 2012 but the rotting space somewhere in a mysterious field that emerges from Tanahill’s imagination becomes the site of an encounter among ten young people and their deep-seated obsessions. The actors for this production were all chosen from the Ottawa area. The author also mentions Boccaccio’s Decameron as another source of inspiration and perhaps Joey’s encounter with an older man looking for sexual satisfaction could bring us back to Boccaccio’s wild dreams of frantic coupling inspired by the terror of the plague, something that Artaud discusses in his seminal text about the way the plague transformed European culture. However, Tannahill’s imagination appears to be much closer to more recent television performances such as Bitten, Twilight, Paranormal Witness or The Haunting of….., inspired by repressed obsessions, exacerbated fears deeply embedded in the troubled psyche of young people who are at war with their parents, who are stressed out by the violence in the world around them, and by the lack of understanding outside their own microsocieties where they find understanding, support and refuge. Even in this enclosed world of young people, the “pack” instinct rears its head as the most vulnerable is subjected to great cruelty while a spirit of guilt engulfs the group and vengeance propels the most extroverted individuals . We are clearly in the very depth of the human psyche inhabited by archetypal figures defining the basic human instincts in the world.

We are also, in the midst of a strange ritual of theatrical proportions. A rectangle in the middle of the performance space is lit with an unreal flickering bluish tinge. WE see that the set is an amalgamation of non-material substances that build a whole world of their own : light, sound,, colour, shadow, all ready to engulf and feed the performers with their power. Dark human shadows collect around that rectangle as a beautiful soprano voice floats out of the shadows, singing religious tones that evoke the beginning of what could be a sacrificial ritual! The same voice is heard at the end of the performance to close the event. All is done and when the ritual is completed and we are left in our seats, transformed by what we have just seen. The 10 bodies are in a line across the “stage” , we don’t know if we are supposed to clap or not. We almost dare not move. And then it’s over…

Tanahill and his team of directors, musicians, choreographers, multidisciplinary artists, bring us forward to the future by daring to take us way back to the origins of human impulses that these young people, unspoiled by classical training and strict rules of acting, have contributed to this event. The team has expressed all their spontaneous desires, frustration, anger, malaise sadness , all harnessed l through a mixed performance process. Besides the ritualized event, one voice (Stefanie Velichkin ) speaking as “the greenhouse”, appears out of nowhere and announces that we are showing you a play within a play. It is divided by ten voices, into ten parts, an oblique reference to the Decameron which does not convince me in the slightest even if each part is represented by one of the young people in the group. The dialogues are fractured, the feelings explode, the voices spit out their own declarations with little apparent linear connection but what emerges is a vast boiling litany of troubled words, which flow rapidly, out of the mouths of these young people. .

It takes a while to plug into this. Some of the actors mumbled and whispered, often I could not understand, but that was fine because the voices at times produced a background of indistinguishable youthful murmur, provoking a certain malaise and a sense of fear. The directors purposefully orchestrated fragments of sentences, bits of words that passed from one mouth to the next, created an oratorio of youthful buzzing. Then there appeared clearly-spoken monologues that distinguished the actors and highlighted the best voices. There was Joey (Connor McMahon) who told us his disturbing experience with an older man, or Sofie Milito, speaking in the name of Couch the victim, the bell-like voice of Sadie Laflamme-Snow, or Aurel Pressat who became the young person absorbed into the world of the fluttering bobolinks and many more. Their uncertainty propelled them into different imaginary worlds as lights flashed, shadows danced, the ghost of the disappeared one returned to haunt them all . The sound of each young voice filled the space with attempted explanations, as the momentum of the event transported the bodies of the young people, towards the sacrificial moment , which slowly came to a head. And then I felt it almost ended too soon!

Also impressive was the group choreography, the orchestration of all those voices, as it coincided with the lighting effects that transformed banal spaces (Highway 417, a field, a school room) into magical places of being. Surrealism joined ritual transformation, something almost unheard of since Artaud! This is not Lepage, it’s Tannahill. We wonder where he will lead us next time?

Concord Floral is literally something else!

Written by Jordan Tanahill, directed by multidisciplinary artist Erin Brubacher, choreographer/dancer Cara Spooner and playwright Jordan Tannahill.

Lighting Designer Kimberly Purtell

Sound designer Christopher Willis

A Production of Suburban Beast (Toronto)with a local Ottawa cast.

CAST:

Madison Baines Fox

Ofa Gasespe Rosa Mundi

Sadie Laflamme-Snow Nearly Wild

Connor McMahon Just Joey

Sofie Milito Bobbie James

Caroline Munoz Jasa Couch

Emily Ong Forever Irene

Franco Pang John Cabot

Aurel Pressat Bobolink

Stefanie Velichkin Greenhouse.


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