On the evening of January 29, I found myself in the Roundhouse Community Centre for the Brubacher/Spooner/Tannahill production of Concord Floral as part of the 2017 PuSh Festival. There was no show program handed out; instead, a photography exhibition featuring portraits of the teenage cast from each of their past productions across Canada taken in their individual bedroom gave the audience a sneak peak of the young performers and their personality. I found a seat in the centre of the house with a great view of the entire set, which consisted of a square grass turf and a tube of fluorescent light that separated the audience from the stage. The original architecture of this studio is perfect for the show; the brick walls and the metal cross-beams in front of each covered windows barely visible from the audience models the one-million square-foot abandoned greenhouse that the play is set in. The vast, empty, unlit space between the walls and the small grass turf downstage (where most of the actions took place) was especially eerie, and allowed Bobby – the dead girl whose found-body kicks off the story – to slowly pace around the stage as the play progresses. The fluorescent light downstage looked like it belonged in this greenhouse as well: ugly, artificial, and unsettlingly bright.
This Governor-General-Literature-Award-nominated (2016) thriller written by Jordan Tannahill centers around a group of high school teenagers after two girls discover a dead body at Concord Floral, the abandoned greenhouse where all of them hang out. The narrator, who speaks from the perspective of the greenhouse, introduces the chronological events of the story. Each character delivers a monologue to the audience at some point, either as themselves, or as an object or animal that is part of the greenhouse. Tannahill does not shy away from mature subject matter and chooses to be brutally honest with the stories they tell, which makes these teenage characters incredibly real and relatable.
With Tannahill’s writing and Erin Brubacher’s direction, the cast – age 17 in average – performed with ease, groundedness, and confidence: qualities that are difficult to achieve even for college-level theatre school students. I learned from the post-show talkback with the cast that part of Brubacher’s intention was to get the youths to be comfortable with their own voice, and bring as much of their personality into the character they portray. It was clear to us that this made a huge difference in the believability of their performance. With a large portion of this play being monologues address to the audience, the fourth wall is often broken, which really tested this young cast’s ability to capture the audience’s attention. As I’m learning in theatre school to never play the end of the scene, these actors were always present and took their time with their delivery. They performed with confidence and grace while making sure that we heard every single word they said. It was this constant subtle check-in with the audience that kept us engaged and invested in their dialogues.
Lights and sound also played a big role in this production. Since the whole cast stayed in a single line along the upstage of the turf for the whole play, a line of Source-Fours right above the actors was a signature lighting look for the play, where we could barely make out their faces but only a silhouette of their shape. The contrast between complete blackout and the occasional white light flashes as Bobby haunts the teenagers’ dream was an example of how lighting heightened the thriller. The most memorable scene for me was a character’s seizure on the ground. A single spotlight lit her face as she rapidly spat out her stream of consciousness continuously for thirty seconds, while all the other characters created a soundscape with an “ah” sound that rose in pitch and volume as the seizure escalated. Soundscapes for the most part consisted of drone sounds and a soprano vocal score with chorus effect; the impending danger present in the narrative made the pureness in the vocal oddly eerie.
Overall, I found Concord Floral to be engaging and gripping, and kept me at the edge of my seat. I am thankful for Tannahill, Brubacher, and the producing team’s efforts to cast only teenagers for every production of this play. As a result, not only did Concord Floral showcase the emerging talents of the city, it also validated the universal and serious themes that are present in teenagers’ lives that demand our attention: As the narrator mentions in the play, the youths today are more than just stereotypically apathetic.