Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
CONCORD FLORAL, the title of Jordan Tannahill’s play currently at Canadian Stage, is the name of a vast, abandoned greenhouse in the suburbs of Toronto. Once the source of roses for births, weddings, and funerals, because “life without beauty is unbearable,” it is now derelict, a night-time hang-out for local teenagers – and for a resident fox; bobolink, an old couch. Soon it will be sold to become a shopping mall. The play, conceived by Tannahill and developed with multi-media artists Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner, was created as part of Can Stage’s 2012 Festival of Ideas.
It premiered at the Theatre Centre in 2014 and has been produced in Ottawa and White Horse NWT. The current production, which continues to be directed by Brubacher and Spooner, is the largest production to date. Several cast members, all in their late teens and early 20’s, have worked with earlier productions, growing up with the play.
The group of teens we meet are studying The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio: this early novel is a set of 100 stories, told over two weeks by a group of young people who flee the Black Death in Florence, around 1348, by fleeing to an abandoned villa outside the city. The link to the historic story and plague is skillfully done, giving the modern tale increased depth and resonance. In this case, the teens have brought plague on themselves – but they are also victims of current stress and cruelty in the world, human and natural.
The play has been called “a cross between De Grassi and I Know What You Did Last Summer,” but this misses a vital point: we – both actors and audience – are left with urgent questions: how can we take responsibility for our actions? how do we stop living in denial? and especially, how do we move toward mercy? Seating has been custom-built above the stage – a form of bleachers, not in the traditional, comfortable audience seats. We climb to our somewhat precarious perches, the first sign that we are going to be engaged; even implicated.
The cast perform wonderfully as an ensemble. The following all deserve mention: – Madison Baines, Theo Gallaro, Ofa Gasesepe, Davinder Malhi, Jovana Miladinovic, Jessica Munk, Franco Pang, Mick (Micaela) Robertson, Rashida Shaw, Melisa Sofi. They play both human and non-human characters, showing a range of viewpoints and adding to the story. Shaw is the narrator, announcing each of the ten interconnecting episodes, and also portrays the observations and insights of the Greenhouse itself. Baines is a sharp yet poignant Fox; Malhi plays a passionate Bobolink; Robertson shows us a worn-down couch. Of the human characters, Miladinovic as Nearly Wild, Gasesepe as Rosa Mundi, and Munk as the mysterious, haunting Bobbie, are especially important in helping the drama unfold. The group scenes gave the feeling of being in a high school classroom, bedroom, or hangout; cellphones – this group’s essential accessory – are integral to the plot. With drama, dark comedy, and language that is both colloquial and poetic, the well-paced one-act production moves to a devastating climax.
The stage, carpeted in artificial turf, is practically bare, adding to the atmosphere of abandonment. Kimberley Purcell’s lighting design is powerful, and Christopher Willes extraordinary composition and sound design, using both music and everyday sounds, heightens the dramatic tension. Eleanor Hart, vocalist, opens the show with a moving song.
Concord Floral plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, through October 16.