Some places have their mysteries: the secret lives born witness to when people were sure no one was watching, a record of which is imprinted on the place, in cypher understood only by initiates of that particular moment.
Concord Floral, a condemned greenhouse where people go to live out their secret lives, is a place like this. When two girls, Rosa Mundi and Nearly Wild, stray from their study group during a midnight McFlurry run and head to the greenhouse to smoke a joint, they discover death at the bottom of a hole when Rosa drops her cellphone into a rotting corpse.
They swear themselves to secrecy; Rosa buys a new phone; they go on with their carefree lives, that is until the calls from Rosa’s old phone begin. Rosa and Nearly awoke something on that trip to the greenhouse, and it won’t allow itself to be put to rest until it has what it wants.
Concord Floral is a Suburban Beast production that puts a focus on the stories of teenagers, youths living through that tumultuous time when they start to have enough freedom to explore who they are and what they want. They are maturing, sexually and socially, and private lives, distinct from home and public lives, are beginning to develop.
This is why directors Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner insist upon casting actual high school students for this production, to bring in performers who are, in a sense, living the script. It’s Brubacher and Spooner’s opinion that “it is crucial… the play be performed by actual teenagers so that their real presence and experience inform what the work offers.”*
This style of casting was something that had also intrigued Jillian Keiley, Artistic Director at the NAC. Despite inexperience, I feel the entire cast of ten—with special kudos to Sofie Milito, Connor McMahon, and Stefanie Velichkin—actually did a great job in their roles, and their youth did seem to add an element of rawness to the content, prodding the audience’s comfort zones when they talk about masturbation or performing discreet sexual acts for adults.
That being said, I had a hard time relating to this production, despite supposedly dealing with—according to Keiley—the “universal experience of teenhood.” How simple and commonplace it seems for these kids to sneak out of their homes at 3 A.M. to wander the streets or lie down in deserted parking lots, to slip into a friend’s home, to buy McFlurries and smoke weed in abandoned buildings is more surreal to me than the truly supernatural elements of this production.
(Though I admit I may be the exception in this, as the show certainly reminded me of a few stories I’ve heard from friends who grew up in the Ottawa suburbs.)
Rather, the universal experience of this play, in my opinion, is that growing division between public and private lives that each of these students seems embroiled in, where they are learning to be selective in what they admit to others—and what they admit to themselves—in order to get along with society. Suppress as they might, phantom memories of what they might rather forget will always remain. The cyphers on the walls always be there to remind them, even into adulthood, when they themselves may be parents, feigning ignorance when their kids go on to follow in their secret footsteps.
As always with NAC shows, Concord Floral’s production values were spot on, using simple, but intense light and sound techniques to emphasize the show’s atmosphere of suspense. Expect dim lights and shadowy figures, eerie choral droning from the performers that builds to a disturbing fever pitch, a black stage where intermittent bursts of light reveal the ghostly figure that stalks the suburbs.
This show is a great opportunity to see some of the young talent that Ottawa is host to, and while the suburban and slightly ditzy mellow-drama may be a turn-off for some, I think the content offers a lot to think about.
If it’s piqued your interest, be aware that the show is only running until April 9, so don’t hesitate to snap up your tickets.
*All quotes are taken from the show notes of Concord Floral.