Teenagers fascinate and frighten us because they’re no longer children but not quite adults – or, rather, because they are both things at once.
That makes teenagehood a very theatrical time, the theatre being a place that also exists neither here nor there. The stage is a space where actors and characters rub up against one another to create something that’s, unsettlingly, both, or in between.
This fall, Toronto is seeing a number of works about teenagers hit the stages around town.
But playwright Jordan Tannahill’s scary play Concord Floral, which was just nominated for a Governor-General’s Award for Literature this week, distinguishes itself in that it is not only about teenagers, but also stars teenagers.
“All parents are a little stupid,” says Fox (Madison Baines). “They need to make themselves that way or they’ll go insane worrying about all the things they secretly know to be true.”
Like I said, scary – especially out of the mouth of an actual teen.
Concord Floral is the name of an abandoned greenhouse in a suburb north of Toronto, where teenagers gather to party or pass the time.
One night, while exploring the grounds with her friend Nearly (Jovana Miladinovic), Rosa (Ofa Gasesepe) drops her iPhone, flashlight app still illuminated, down a deep, dark hole. The two girls peer down the hole – and seeing the phone glowing out of the decomposing body of another teenage girl.
The rest of Tannahill’s artfully constructed play follows the aftermath of the discovery – as the girls try to pretend they didn’t see what they saw, and word of the dead girl spreads through all the other teens in the community like a plague.
Having teenagers onstage in a professional production is, of course, not new in Toronto theatre – it dates back at least to Jim Garrard’s Fourteen in 1984, a collective creation about a girls’ slumber party written and performed by 14-year-old girls.
Concord Floral was not written by teens, although it presents itself as if it were – a class project, of sorts. “This is a play we created for you,” one says at one point, and Tannahill writes the voices of the younger generation convincingly enough to make it seem true.
That’s not to say teens weren’t involved in the creation of the play – equally inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s medieval allegory The Decameron and the horror flick I Know What You Did Last Summer.
Directors Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner developed it with Toronto-area teens – and have, at this point, road-tested it with a number of productions with young casts in Toronto, in Ottawa, in Calgary.
Brubacher and Spooner’s latest production at Canadian Stage features veterans of performances of the play from across the country – and they include young men and women whose newness to the stage is still apparent, as well as others who give very polished performances.
If the line between amateur and professional actor blurs here – that is the point in a show about the blurring of lines, notably the line between civilization and the wild. (Foxes and bobolinks feature as characters. Also, to less effect, a couch.)
There’s nothing amateur about any of the production elements, however – with Kimberly Purtell’s surgical lighting dissecting a set composed of artificial turf and classroom chairs, and Christopher Willes’s composition and sound design effectively giving the audience the willies.
What mostly distinguishes this version of Concord Floral from an earlier incarnation in Toronto at the Theatre Centre is that it is staged in an unusual arrangement at the Bluma Appel Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. The audience is up on the stage as well, along with the actors, watching the play from a long riser.
Aside from an opening scene that makes us pay attention to the normal seats, empty and to our left, there seems to be little need for this trendy approach – but, creaking scaffolding aside, it doesn’t really distract from the show, either. Indeed, I enjoyed Concord Floral as much as I did when I first saw it at the Theatre Centre – the familiarity with the material not stopping it from sending shivers down my spine at various intervals.
Concord Floral runs until Oct. 16 (canadianstage.com).Report Typo/Error