Sunday, 3 April 2016

Kind hearts and coronados

I'd worked out the bus I needed, but I misplaced my glasses and left the house late. The bus that eventually trundled along had the correct number on it, and it practically wafted to a halt. The fellow wasn't driving particularly slow, but we stopped at all the stops, and each time, he carefully docked at the curb like a ferry boat.

By the time we reached the Rideau Centre, I was getting a little antsy and groaned inwardly when I realized it was a change-over, because the departing driver needs to pack up his stuff, and have a chat with the arriving driver, who then has to adjust his seat several times and recheck the mirror.

While this ritual was going on, a woman boarded the bus with her toddler, and loudly inquired, "CORONADO??" Both drivers regarded her with mild incomprehension. She began talking rapidly, both to them and to her cell-phone, repeating, "Coronado? CORONADO???" Meanwhile, the long line-up of would-be passengers began squeezing past her and stepping over the waiting toddler.

A young family ahead of me conferred across the aisle, and the mum headed up to the front, while the dad sternly indicated to the little boy sharing her seat that he must stay put. Another woman grinned at me; I must have been looking perplexed. "She's on the wrong side of the street," she explained. "She needs to go on the other #7."

And as the young mum returned to her seat, the Coronado lady disembarked, toddler in tow, and we could finally leave -- hitting every single stop light.

By the time I ran into the National Arts Centre from the Elgin Street entrance, I had less than ten minutes to make it through the whole complex to the Studio theatre on the far side, and this year, the complex is more complex than usual, due to renovations. Finding my usual way blocked, I hurried back upstairs and slipped through the lounges of Southam Hall, race-walking past the main theatre, and joining the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter waiting for the matinée performance of Concord Floral.

Younger daughter was methodically reading through the cast list. I should have done the same; it might have helped.

The title itself is a bit of a riddle. I gathered through the course of the play that it was the name of the abandoned greenhouse that is a clandestine meeting place for suburban teens. Although we're told that the teenaged characters live in a neighbourhood bounded on one side by the Queensway (27-year-old playwright Jordan Tannahill grew up in Orleans, the eastern Ottawa neighbourhood bisected by the Queensway highway), Concord is a neighbourhood in the southern end of the township of Vaughn, just north of York University in Greater Toronto. On the Google Maps Satellite view, there is a huge rectangle of discoloured and patchy grass just north of where Highway 7 and Highway 407 wind by, which, I suppose, is where the greenhouse used to be, and will soon be the site of - no surprises here - condominiums. The production we were seeing had been re-set in Ottawa.

What followed was part supernatural chiller, part urban myth, part extended metaphor, and apparently, loosely based on the Decameron. Directors' notes and reviews all stressed the vital importance of having real teenagers perform, and the cast consisted of ten 16-to-19-year-olds, all local high school students except for two, who are studying drama at the University of Ottawa.

The trouble with young performers is that few of them have the skills to project and enunciate. These young actors were all miked, and performing in the Studio Theatre, which is a relatively small space, yet the only performers I could hear consistently were the two now studying theatre at U. of O. I'm all for authenticity, and certainly, these budding actors were convincing, but the authenticity also involved the rapid speech and dropped voices of adolescence -- which meant I sometimes missed key remarks.

I did manage to follow the story -- sort of. It consists of small scenes and narrations - including the viewpoints of a fox, a bird, a couch, and the greenhouse. Fortunately for me, the "greenhouse" narrator was one of the clear speakers. One of the most confusing elements is a lengthy stare-down when the cast lines up at the edge of the performance area and eyeballs the audience for what seems like an eternity. At the performance we attended, an audience member eventually started clapping in the apparent belief the show had ended. Maybe this happens every time; maybe it's the signal to continue. I found it a bit precious and baffling.

At the very end, the "greenhouse" quotes Susan Sontag, saying that ten percent of the population will embrace cruelty, ten percent of the population will embrace mercy, and the other eighty percent could go either way, and that this was a cause for hope. Commendable, but oddly unconnected with what had just gone on. I left the theatre feeling mildly irritated, but not sorry that I'd come.

The trip home on the #7 was so uneventful that I forgot to look out to see if I could see where Corona Street was.

No comments: