Friday, February 24, 2012
THEATRE REVIEW: SEEDS
23 FEB 2012
Pictured: Liisa Repo-Martell, Eric Peterson
TORONTO - A faith the size of a mustard seed, we are told, can move mountains. Meanwhile, a doubt the size of a canola seed might not be able to derail the goals of a multinational corporation, but it can, it seems, shake your view of the world to its very foundations and leave you pondering, in a very real sense, the meaning of life.
For proof, look no further than SEEDS, a new docu-drama by Montreal’s Annabel Soutar, currently playing at the Young Centre, where it opened Wednesday in a co-production between Crow’s Theatre and Montreal’s Porte Parole.
First, a bit of history: as a crop, canola has been around for years, although not in its present form. It started out, in fact, as rapeseed, which was grown primarily for use as an industrial lubricant, until it was transformed (and subsequently, and understandably, renamed) through the efforts of a researcher and plant breeder named Richard Downie, into the largest source of edible oil in the world. From there, it was subsequently transformed again by the manipulation of its genes, into a super-crop by the folks at Monsanto, who in making it resistant to certain pesticides, also managed to ensure higher yields for the farmers that grew it.
But where Downie had largely accomplished his part of the transformation of the crop under the aegis of various levels of government for the good of all, Monsanto’s new, improved canola was most definitely a business venture — and their efforts to protect their “invention” put them on a collision course with a Saskatchewan farmer named Percy Schmeiser.
His fight with Monsanto started when the firm found their improved genes in unlicensed plants growing on Schmeiser’s property. He claimed those plants had found their way there on their own, whereas Monsanto insisted he had somehow stolen their technology — and the ensuing dog fight made it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, who ruled in favour of Monsanto, while also clearing Schmeiser. But while that contretemps is the frame on which playwright Soutar stretches her canvas, what she manages to paint is a much larger picture, interspersing dramatizations of dozens of interviews with her own personal voyage into the tale, with Liisa Repo-Martell stepping into the playwright’s shoes to act as narrator.
The role of Schmeiser, meanwhile, is played (and beautifully, it might be added) by Eric Peterson, while Bruce Dinsmore, Mariah Inger, Alex Ivanovici, Tanja Jacobs and Cary Lawrence team up, with a dazzling and effective disregard for race, gender and age, to bring life to a range of farmers, lawyers, scientists, reporters, publishers and holy men.
And together, under the direction of Chris Abraham, they expand the focus of the play from a balanced examination of the rights and wrongs of the conflict between a scrappy Saskatchewan farmer and multi-national conglomerate, to embrace the ethics behind the genetic engineering of crops, the dangers of untrammeled science and, finally, the meaning of life itself.
With a strong assist from set designer Julie Fox, aided and abetted at every turn by Ana Cappelluto’s lighting, Richard Feren’s sound design and Elysha Poirier’s multi-media acumen, director Abraham leads his cast confidently and sure-footedly through what in other hands could have been a dull and soporific discussion of issues, transforming it all into compelling theatre in the process.
In the end, it is, of course, still difficult to fully answer the question posed at the very top of the show: “What is Life?” But certainly, you’re likely to agree that, in this modern world, life is a lot more complicated than it’s ever been before.