A Montreal playwright seeking the truth explores the complex, long-running legal battle between Monsanto and Saskatchewan canola farmer Percy Schmeiser.
Should you see it?
I must admit that I judged a book by its cover when it came to Seeds; based on the subject matter, I was expecting a dry and academic legal drama. The last thing I was expecting was one of my favorite productions this season.
This documentary theatre piece takes on a landmark case from the beginnings of GMOs in 1997, when Monsanto sued Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser for patent infringement when their genetically modified canola seeds were found growing in his fields. What followed was a legal battle that only ended in the Canadian Supreme Court in 2004 and changed public knowledge about genetically modified crops. Seeds is also an exploration of genetic modification and the difficult nature of truth. What may seem like a straightforward David & Goliath case is actually so much more, once you start to dig.
Annabel Soutar’s script makes the multilayered issue of GMOs completely understandable. Soutar does what she can to present all sides of the issue, and both Monsanto and Schmeiser get their say. This is all told from the point of view of the playwright herself, who takes us through her interviews; even when things get scientific it’s easy to follow along because we’re learning about the case at the same time she is. She’s not a biologist or a genetic engineer, but an investigative playwright.
Don’t worry if you have no background knowledge on the case itself – it’s not necessary to get engrossed in the action. Seeds is surprisingly fun for a production centered around a court case. It’s is so full of life and movement thanks to Chris Abraham’s energetic direction and Julie Fox’s impressive set design. Elysha Poirier’s multimedia projections also add to the visual interest. The use of two video cameras to broadcast live moments onto the screen behind the actors is particularly effective.
Seeds’ performers readily jump from character to character with admirable energy. There are some great performances here, especially from Eric Peterson as Percy Schmeiser and Tanja Jacobs as Schmeiser’s wife, Monsanto’s lawyer, an activist nun and more. Christine Beaulieu is great as Soutar’s playwright surrogate, believably portraying a woman who finds herself more deeply immersed in a topic than she expected.
I understand that Seeds may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Even Soutar recognizes that; in her parting words to the audience, she explains that she expects people to have divisive views about her play. Yet whether you love it or hate it, Seeds will get you thinking. In the end, does it really matter how genetically modified canola made it onto Percy Schmeiser’s fields? Maybe not, but the discussion it sparked has been world changing. This is how documentary theatre should be done.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d like to know what you think. Do you think Seeds was a balanced portrayal of the Percy Schmeiser case? Was it different from what you were expecting? Let me know in the comments below!
Seeds runs from March 28 to April 12 at the National Arts Centre. Find out more information here.