Concord Floral presents a disturbing suburban dystopia

Reviewed by Patrick Langston

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Production shot from the toronto production of Jordan Tannahill’s  “Concord Floral

Those of us long past our teenage years can only breathe a sigh of gratitude to aging after seeing Jordan Tannahill’s disquieting Concord Floral.

Dislocation, loneliness, confusion: these we remember about our younger selves. And while Tannahill and this gripping production depict those horrors of growing up with precision and sensitivity, the show also layers in a creeping sense of dread about contemporary teen life, a feeling that “something in the air has shifted” as one character puts it, that may seem foreign to the adolescent experience of many older audience members.

That shift in the air is part of what is, at heart, a genuinely scary teen ghost/vengeance tale but one told with Tannahill’s customary intelligence and slashes of humour. The story revolves around the abandoned Concord Floral greenhouse where disaffected suburban teens party, have sex and smoke dope as they try to figure out who they are and where they fit in a world that seems wholly irrelevant to their lives.

Disdained though it may be by its young inhabitants, Tannahill’s suburbia turns out to be a richly gothic place. That becomes clear one night when Rosa Mundi (Ofa Gasesepe), who’s at the greenhouse with her pal Nearly Wild (Sadie Laflamme-Snow) to blow a little weed, drops her cellphone down a hole in the floor. Searching for it, the two discover the body of a teenage girl.

Freaked out, they leave the cellphone behind and decide not to tell anyone about what they’ve found. Word soon leaks out among their peers. Worse yet, Nearly starts getting phone calls from Bobbie the dead girl played by Sofie Milito. As Nearly’s world cants sideways, the lives of some of her classmates crumple as well: Just Joey (Connor McMahon), for instance, has had a hook-up that’s left him more alienated than ever; Forever Irene (Emily Ong) has her own disrupting secret. 

We also eventually learn of everyone’s connection with the disappearance a year earlier of the vulnerable outcast Bobbie.

Tannahill – a 27-year-old Ottawa native who in 2014 won the Governor General’s Award for Drama for Age of Minority – also introduces wildlife. One of the 10 young actors plays a fox who, in fable-like fashion, comments on the human activity in the greenhouse. Another is a bobolink who gets trapped inside the school cafeteria and, in a strikingly enacted metaphor for teen life, bashes against the windows trying to escape. In Tannahill’s vision, suburbia, poised between city and country, is like the human heart, a place where wildness and civilization continually intersect despite our struggles to keep them apart.

Other actors play the greenhouse itself and a couch in it. Surrealism and Tannahill get along.

All this takes place on an empty stage covered with Astroturf and, occasionally, a clutch of plain chairs. Cellphones are the only props in a show that lays bare the life of its characters.

Under directors Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner, those characters are played by non-professional actors, none of them over 20. Tannahill wrote it this way, and while enunciation is sometimes poor, the rawness these Ottawa-area performers bring to their work is truthful and remarkably compelling.

Tannahill’s script doesn’t always soar. He’s loosely modelled his story on the medieval The Decameron in which 10 young people take refuge from the plague in a secluded villa where they tell stories to pass the time. The plague in Concord Floral is an existential one, and the greenhouse refuge turns out not to be a refuge at all, but the link to The Decameron feels coy and gratuitous.

As well, the final pronouncement of the play about mercy is at odds with what’s gone before, as though Tannahill had suddenly had enough darkness for one day.

Caveats aside, Concord Floral will leave you not just pleasurably discomfited but wondering if your own youth was even more unsettled than you recall.

Continues until April 9. Tickets: NAC box office, Ticketmaster outlets, 1-888-991-2787, nac-cna.ca

A Suburban Beast (Toronto) production

NAC Studio. Article first appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, Friday April 1, 2016


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