The first thing that struck me upon entering the performance space at the Young Centre was finding the actors onstage anxiously awaiting the audience’s arrival. They had a story to tell and were eager to get started.
Once every last seat in the theatre was filled two actors clad in white lab coats joined the audience and posed the question: ‘What is life?’ to which a young boy no more than three years old thoughtfully responded: " Animals…seeds…God…people." And so began Annabel Soutar’s documentary theatre play Seeds.
The story centers on Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer, and his four year legal battle against biotech giant Monsanto Inc. When Monsanto’s herbicide resistant seed is discovered in Percy’s field without him having paid the fifteen dollars per acre technology fee, he is accused of patent infringement and persecuted by his fellow farmers.
Percy maintained his innocence, explaining it had blown onto his field and contaminated his crops with genetically modified canola. In her quest for the truth the playwright, played by Liisa Repo-Martell, unearths a slew of new questions to which there are no easy answers. No story is ever black and white and while I find it admirable that both director Chris Abraham and playwright Annabel Soutar took the high road of presenting nothing but the facts to maintain the integrity of the story and took the responsibility of their influence seriously, it just didn’t make for compelling theatre.
The multimedia set was cluttered and distracting. It didn’t serve to enlighten the audience or help clarify the science behind it all. Though the runtime of the play was much too long the actors more than made up for it with their refreshingly animated performances. Many of the cast members skillfully played several distinctly different characters; particularly Mariah Inger who flowed from one character to the next seamlessly. In the end we are once again faced with the question that opened the show: "What is life?"
Underwhelmed I sat and pondered the question briefly. Though I have no definitive answer in the broad concept, I can say that without the actors there is no life in Seeds.
Seeds runs through to March 10 at The Young Centre for Performing Arts in Toronto. For tickets visit crowstheatre.com.
Photo credit: Seeds/Crows Theater