Annabel Soutar’s documentary play, Seeds, plants dissention. Scientists, researchers, industry representatives, advocacy groups and farmers argue the safety of genetically modified organisms, commonly called GMO’s. Through verbatim trial transcripts, interviews and speeches Soutar crafts a powerful mine field of what if’s.Though obviously attempting to appear unbiased, Soutar’s script weighs heavily on the side of banning GMO’s. And the production, at the Blyth Theatre, is at its most powerful and poignant when the playwright strips away her attempts at being objective and presents her true feelings no holds barred. Photo courtesy of Terry Manza
David Fox, as Percy Schmeiser, the Saskatchewan farmer who fights the giant corporation, Monsanto, in three court battles right up to the Supreme Court, has never acted more fiercely and ferociously. His plea that Monsanto’s GMO seeds blew onto the field he’d been plowing for 50 years; fell on deaf ears. Like the other 30,000 farmers in Canada who were already paying “bribes” to Monsanto of $15 an acre to use seeds they never wanted, he was forced to pay up. Fox’s performance was heart wrenching and prophetic. Since Schmeiser lost to Monsanto, the problem has multiplied, culminating in the recent decision south of the border that GMO products do not have to be labeled.
Severn Thompson, as the playwright/narrator Soutar, is also at her finest. Since her ingénue roles at the Shaw Festival a few years ago, Thompson has matured into a stellar, seasoned performer, who draws us into the drama like an investigator trying to solve a crime. The audience is on the edge of its seats striving to find out what really happened to Schmeiser and what effects it will have on other farmers and on the contaminated canola oil’s consumers.
Six actors took on a variety of different roles, sexes and ages. Only Fox played one role all the way through. Also noteworthy: Rachel Cairns’ slow motion mime and body language; Tracey Ferencz as smooth talking Monsanto PR spokesperson, Trish Jordan, and Jeff Irving as Schmeiser’s compassionate attorney, Terry Zakreski, and as eccentric genetic researcher, Dr. Barry Commoner. And projections designer, Beth Kates, creates a powerful backdrop of visual possibilities ranging between the endless cubicles of Monsanto’s laboratory, the Saskatchewan farmers’ fields and the endless sky. Although Soutar never delves into the potential health effects of GMO’s, she hints at problems to come, in her in depth discussion of the genetic make up of seeds, her disclosure of the lack of research and the quick licensing of products without proper testing. There’s ample need for a ‘Seeds’ part two.
This is not just a story about Schmeiser, it’s a study of an industry. Soutar’s research is exquisite, her factual information stunning, her dedication to the subject matter exemplary and her understanding and use of her characters, excellent. When she dares to expose her passion without shame, this play sings.
Seeds runs until Aug. 8th at the Blyth Theatre. [Blyth is approx. 25 kms east of Goderich]