Concord Floral called “A Triumph”

NOTE: Concord Floral by Jordan Tannahill streams through Saturday, Dec. 19.

We are living through a historically difficult time, as academics and as theatre artists. The pandemic has cut through our discipline in shocking, profound ways. Yet we can also look back at this time as a period of exciting experimentation and artistic growth, provided we have the courage to throw out the rule book and truly embrace what it means to be interdisciplinary. For an example of that kind of courage, I need to look no further than Colorado State University’s thrilling production of Jordan Tannahill’s Concord Floral, directed by Saffron Henke.

The script, written in 2016 by a Canadian playwright, could not have possibly predicted the perils of America in 2020. Yet the story of a group of teenagers haunted by their own cruelty and left vulnerable by the world around them feels breathtakingly prescient.

The production is a technical marvel. Boxed in by pandemic safety protocols, a more timid production might have limited itself to Zoom theatre, a well-meaning but static enterprise. But under Assistant Professor Saffron Henke’s fearless direction, Concord Floral blossoms into a frenetic, tense, and bone-chilling experience. It is a true interdisciplinary work: more theatrical than a film, yet availing itself of so many cinematic tools to become something that could not exist in a traditional black box.

It’s an all the more staggering feat when we understand that the actors filmed their parts separately, and were edited together to create a heightened collage of horror, foreboding, and yearning vulnerability. Henke’s vision needs to be lauded here: in creating this vivid hybrid form, she and her collaborators are literally breaking new ground, creating something that Tannahill surely couldn’t have predicted, but would hopefully approve. How did Henke coax such tender and intimate performances out of her college actors, when none of them could be in the room together? And yet, she did: this ensemble felt real, the environment felt lived-in, and the relationships rang painfully true. Particularly vivid was the performance by James-Rachel Bennett as Bobbie, the heartbreaking figure at the center of the mystery.

Roger Hanna, the production designer and director of photography, captures a technicolor suburban hellscape, helped along by the team of designers: Sarah Lepiere (art director), Abby Allison (costume, hair and makeup), Anthony Decosmo and Morgan Lessman (lighting), and Ashley Schountz (sound). Projections and video designer Price Johnson gave it all a patina of unworldliness.

Where will theatre go in 2021 and beyond? How will we reinvent ourselves in a post-pandemic world? It’s unknowable. But watching Colorado State’s latest tour de force, it’s like watching the future write itself. It’s breathtaking. Concord Floral is a triumph for Saffron Henke and her artistic team.

Megan Gogerty
Lecturer, Playwrights Workshop
University of Iowa

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