Concord Floral explores peer pressure in a microcosm of teen life on stage in Toronto
There are three main reasons why I was originally drawn to Concord Floral, on stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre at the St Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts until October 16th. First, its focus is on teen life in suburban Vaughan, Ontario, which was exactly where I spent my teenage years. Second, it’s written by Jordan Tannahill who is pretty much the IT playwright of the here and now. He picked up a slew of Dora Awards for Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom, a show he presented earlier this year with Canadian Stage that simply blew me away. Third, the transformation of the Bluma Appel Theatre, placing the audience on bleacher style seating directly on the stage looking down on the performers, intrigued me and I had to see it for myself.
Having experienced the play and now understanding what it really is — a teen horror flick on stage, reminding me a lot of the movie Unfriended, just in time for Halloween — I see both the emotional underpinnings of the bullying and peer pressure that comes with the territory of being a teenager, and the darkly twisted joy of Concord Floral itself.
If you were a teenager in Vaughan, you were acutely aware of one thing — you were young, bored, hormonal and restless. All of that collided directly with what Vaughan had to offer for a bored, restless teen: nothing. Vaughan teens are left to their own devices to find things to do: hanging at the parking lot at the 24-hour Timmies or Mickey D’s, going to the one friend with lax parents and the empty basement, or gathering at abandoned buildings like Concord Floral — what used to be a glorious greenhouse, the once foremost supplier of roses to what is now the GTA. And yes, the place did exist. I feel like I missed out, not knowing of Concord Floral’s existence until now, but it’s quite obvious what went on there: sex, drugs and overall debauchery.
Tannahill’s Concord Floral explores the life of a group of teens who use the abandoned greenhouse as a place to party, and as a means of escape. From there, Tannahill builds a microcosm of teenage life, where cliques reign and the need to belong becomes paramount; where bullying can leave a lasting impression that lingers for years to come.
Concord Floral stars a cast of young up-and-coming faces, all of whom are barely out of their teens themselves. It’s clear the ensemble has worked hard on perfecting this work. It’s a vocal piece comprised of a number of monologues and dialogues to propel the story forward. Giving voice not only to the teens that make up the story but to inanimate objects (like the abandoned greenhouse itself, the forgotten and abused couch, and even a local field fox) was a very interesting touch that I quite enjoyed. Meticulous timing and spacial awareness of the stage is crucial to making this performance work and the cast has accomplished this remarkably well.
I was particularly impressed by Jessica Munk’s portrayal of Bobbie. Not only was Munk’s performance truly raw, pained and guttural as she succumbs to bullying and pressure, but she can sing quite well too. She also does ‘haunting’ very well, too.
The staging is completely minimal. The floor is covered in a form of AstroTurf and the cast of 10 use those familiar plastic chairs to signify being in class. Lighting and sound make up the rest. Lighting designer Kimberley Purtell and sound designer Christopher Welles do phenomenal work here, creating frenetic chaos and a sense of gathering, impending doom. The rushing roar at the show’s climax feels like it’s coming from all directions as it seeps into the mind.
The bleacher seating is a unique touch. As the audience enters the theatre, they walk past the standard Bluma Appel seating and up the steps onto the stage. The first time I’ve ever set foot on that stage. The bleachers can be a bit daunting — the highest point is actually quite high and looking down on the performers can be unnerving. Also, the seats respond to the slightest of movements. But all of this creates a very intimate setting for this show that would be hard to achieve any other way.
I’ve seen aural performances from young people in the past; performances like these are prevalent at the Fringe Festival and this does feel like a highly polished Fringe show, and I mean that in the best way possible. Concord Floral is well-written and the story unfolds at a decent clip. It’s indeed a dark and fun show to experience.
- Concord Floral is playing at the Bluma Appel Theatre at the St Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts (27 Front St E) until October 16, 2016.
- Performances run Wednesdays through Sundays at 7 pm or 8 pm with 1 pm matinees, see website for more details.
- Tickets range from $35 – $79 and can be purchased online, in person, or by calling the box office at (416) 367 8243.
- Audience advisory: Performance contains strobe lighting, coarse language, and electrical haze. The show is 80 minutes long without intermission, late comers and re-entry are not permitted.
Photo of the ensemble by Erin Brubacher