Concord Floral, playing at The Theatre Centre, is engaging theatre that captures life and spark from a young cast
Jordan Tannahill is no stranger to subversion. The award-winning playwright and queer activist creates and hosts all kinds of challenging experimental performances in his small storefront venue Videofag in Kensington Market. But of all the risks he’s taken, Tannahill’s latest play Concord Floral, playing at The Theatre Centre, does something that should really make people nervous: It stars teenagers.
Based on the 14th-century story collection The Decameron by Boccaccio, in which ten young people run off to an abandoned villa to escape the plague, Tannahill’s play gathers a group of teens around an abandoned suburban greenhouse, where they weave their dreams and fantasies with the confusing realities of their lives.
I’ve been excited to see Concord Floral ever since I first heard about it a few months ago, in part because I’m a fan of Tannahill’s, but also because I’m so deeply unsympathetic to the idea of watching teens perform on a stage. I wanted to see how he/they pulled it off.
I hate to harp on my bias against teens, but simply put, I find their self-consciousness distracting. The complex fragility of the teen ego-projection triggers my own feelings of vulnerability, and that’s just not how I like to vibrate. When I go to a show, I want to open myself up to receive the work, and I can’t do that if it feels like I’m doing the performers some existential favour by looking at them.
So having proven how grumpy I am on this subject, and hopefully why I think this was such a risky move (It could be so bad!), let me say: The teens are good. They’re sweet and complicated and smart and sad and cruel, just like real teens. Tannahill and his collaborators Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner manage to elicit an authenticity from them that’s pretty irresistible.
The individual performances aren’t exactly stellar, of course, at least not by the usual standards, but the actors are so well integrated with the script that it works very well all together, and their awkwardness becomes an asset. Tannahill doesn’t let their weakness become incidental, and therefore intrusive. Instead, he takes that quality of being a teenager that’s painful to see, and he makes it the vital core of the play.
Let’s be honest, I’m not the only person who doesn’t want to face into the searingly sensitive world of adolescents. It’s hard to look at them directly, because to do so means confronting their overwhelming need for honesty, and also admitting the perfect validity of their perspective. The lessons we learn as we leave those years behind are rarely ones we want to revisit.
But Tannahill forces the encounter by staging the play on an almost completely bare set, carpeted with AstroTurf, and having the actors square off with the audience, delivering their lines straight out into the house. Nothing is concealed; we meet the teens head-on.
We find them hiding. In Boccaccio’s original, the teens discover their solitude because they’re avoiding a plague. The plague that the teens in Concord Floral are escaping is more subtle and sinister: the disingenuousness of a world at odds with itself. There’s nothing more confusing than insincerity, especially when it runs society — no wonder they run away.
Concord Floral offers audiences a surprising reward for being open to the teenage condition. My instinct to dismiss the teen perspective and it’s crazy drama was overpowered, and I found myself sharing those big, scary feelings. A beautiful, meaningful life isn’t easy, but it’s worth an honest try.
- Concord Floral runs October 16 – 26 at the Theatre Centre Mainspace (1115 Queen Street West).
- Performances are at 8 pm, Tuesday through Saturday, with weekend matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.
- Tickets are $20 regular/$15 youth, and can be purchased at the Theatre Centre box office, by calling 416-538-0988, or by visiting theatrewhynot.org.
Photo by Erin Brubacher.