The Vancouver premiere of Concord Floral, a unique collaboration between the PuSh Festival, the Roundhouse Community Centre, Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Surrey Civic Theatres, and Touchstone Theatre, has been in development for two years. The play, written by Toronto playwright (and current PuSh curator-in-residence) Jordan Tannahill, and directed by Erin Brubacher with the assistance of Cara Spooner, casts ten local teenagers, most with little to no previous performance experience, in the roles of a group of grade nine neighbourhood kids who like to hang out at abandoned greenhouse. There they drink, smoke up, occasionally have sex, diss school and their parents and each other, and finally come to rue some of their more shameful actions.
At once grounded in the everyday reality of its suburban setting (an artificial lawn and plastic orange desk chairs comprise the mise-en-scène and the script has been peppered with references to Lower Mainland geography), the play is also a mystical allegory modelled after Boccaccio's Decameron. To this end, the cast members take turns addressing the audience--sometimes as their teenage characters, sometimes as the nonhuman animals and material objects who are witness to and often adversely affected the teenagers' behaviour--in a series of monologues that capture the quotidian "whatever" rhythms of youthspeak and yet remain achingly honest and raw in their successive revelations of sexual secrets, thoughts of death, and repressed regret for their behaviour toward each other. For, notwithstanding the repeated references to the mysterious plague that has descended upon the teenagers' neighbourhood, there is a much more conventional puzzle to solve at the heart of this play, one that involves the naked girl who walks across the stage at the very beginning, and who mostly thereafter stands apart from the rest of the group.
All of this is staged by Brubacher and Spooner in a highly presentational manner, with the actors standing still, arms motionless at their sides, to deliver their monologues, and also the choral addresses that they share. I understand the choice: it's a demand for attention, a hail that asks the audience to judge these teenagers--both the characters being played and the remarkably talented nonprofessional actors playing them--on their own terms. At the same time, those scenes in the school cafeteria, or of peer-to-peer interaction, when the actors are allowed to fully inhabit their own physicalities came as such a relief, every slouch or collapse onto the floor or full-tilt run across the stage a kinetic reminder of the vitality of these kids' lives, and of the stories they have to tell us.