Concord Floral: the mystery, magic and horror of suburban teen life
by Drew Rowsome
Just sitting on the steeply raked bleachers perched on the stage of the Bluma Appel Theatre, takes one back to the time of high school. The creaks, wobbles and seeming precariousness conjures up that heightened emotional state that is adolescence. The cast of Concord Floral performs on a patch of vivid green AstroTurf far below, while row on row empty theatre seats loom in semi-darkness to the side. It is a very visceral effect that hits before a word has been spoken.
Concord Floral takes its title from the name of an abandoned greenhouse in what is now the suburban wasteland of Vaughan. It is where the local teenagers go to drink, smoke, have sex and generally hang out unsupervised. The youth tell of their lives in a seamless choral speak that uses realistic language heightened just enough to be elevated into poetry. Their stories are ones we have heard before, possibly, probably, even lived. And then an urban myth comes seemingly to life and Concord Floral becomes even more fascinating.
Applying the techniques of A Chorus Line and other confessional monologue-based plays to a basic horror revenge plot is ingenious. Because we know the tropes so well - the mysterious dead body, the phone calls from beyond the grave, the sexual awakening, the joy and fear of the naked body, the dying parent, the comedy of coming of age - the twists and the interlinks wrap around the horror filament like a fine mesh that is then forged into barbed wire. There are reasons that urban myths are so potent and consistent, to Concord Floral's credit, it spins them into something fresh and exciting.
The cast, appearing to be actual adolescents, have all appeared in previous incarnations and workshops of Concord Floral. It shows in their seamless team effort but there is not a jaded or weary moment from them. Ofa Gasesepe as Rosa moved through an intense moment with Streepian skill before seeming to almost reel from the emotional impact, pausing to wipe away tears before being able to move to the next scene. It was either very real and raw, or very, very cleverly crafted.
Jovana Miladinovic, who is either the hero or the villain but definitely the audience surrogate, is a mean girl next door and Jessica Munk an ethereally grounded mystery. Even when called on to play inanimate objects or animals, the cast steps up and brings a couch, a bird, a fox, the greenhouse itself to life. Monologues are tricky at the best of time but the choral work, mixing overlapping lines and unison, provide an aural safety net. Franco Pang invests enough into a cliched tale of a gay boy exploring with an older closeted man, to give it heft and heart, and Melisa Sofi is a spunky youngest of the group with equivalent sexual curiosity. Theo Gallaro adds flavourings of sheer joy and suppressed rage to make his nerd character a scene-stealer.
Playwright Jordan Tannahill (Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom, Late Company, Post Eden, a riff on The Midnight Special) is well served by the cast and directors Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner who dispense the effects subtly except where explosiveness is needed. The soundscape by Christopher Willes is enveloping and precise and whoever contributed the contrast between opera and rap, between passion and resigned rage, encapsulated the themes and emotions into a simple subliminal subtext. Concord Floral drifts occasionally in the direction of pretentiousness but always pulls back or feints in another direction just in time. The kids are not alright in Concord Floral's world, but their struggle against the mundane is epic theatre.
Photos by Erin Brubacher
Concord Floral continues until Sun, Oct 16 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, 27 Front St E. canadianstage.com