Home Arts “Who owns life?” Facing what lies behind your plate

“Who owns life?” Facing what lies behind your plate

by Nathália Larocerie Lêdo November 12, 2013
“Who owns life?” Facing what lies behind your plate

What is the source of life and who owns it are some of the driving inquiries behind the down-to-earth (in its literal sense) documentary play Seeds, winner of Best English-Language Production of 2005 by the Association québécoise des critiques de théâtre (artere) and nominated for Best Original Script in 2005 by artere.

When Schmeiser famously asked the question, “Who owns life?” before the Supreme Court of Canada, his words galvanized the anti-GMO movement around the world. Photo by Maxime Côté

Written by Annabel Soutar, Seeds is a fast-paced, electrifying chronicle of the four-year trial of Saskatchewan canola farmer Percy Schmeiser, who was sued by biotech multinational corporation Monsanto. The dialogues are all based on court transcripts, official documentation and interviews with Schmeiser, Monsanto’s public relations people, as well as farmers, professors and lawyers.

Monsanto is a giant agricultural company that trades in biochemical products and crop seeds. It initiated a legal battle in 1998, prosecuting Schmeiser. Monsanto alleged that Schmeiser was illegally growing their genetically modified canola seeds. He defended himself explaining that they flew into his fields, contaminating his own plantations. After the court ruled the legal victory of Monsanto over Schmeiser, the case gained popularity worldwide, fueling heated debates over the property of life and the danger of genetically modified food.

The cast is composed of Eric Peterson (known for his roles in Corner Gas and This is Wonderland) as Percy Schmeiser and Liisa Repo-Martell (who plays Annabel Soutar, who conducted the interviews herself), as well as four other actors who demonstrate a feat of versatility, constantly alternating roles. In this regard, they do a wonderful job recreating the speeches and imitating the accents of the several people interviewed.

It is rather challenging to follow the rhythm of the play. The staging, though fluid, switches constantly in mere seconds by busy actors that are not part of the scene. On top of that, there’s an avalanche of information to absorb in the form of statistics, scientific facts and opinions. However, the visual scenario proffered by the play is a winning feature with its video projections and replications of televised speeches.

The docudrama is not solely about the figures involved with the case itself, but also tells the story of its playwright, a passionate and pregnant Soutar who is seeking the truth. Told in the first person, it voices the thoughts and emotional involvement of the journalist, in this judicial and philosophical epic.

Seeds is not your ordinary play. It does not concern itself with leisure as it does about conveying information and spreading awareness. It touches on important questions of property and food safety and makes you leave the theatre reflecting on these issues. The comparison that has been made between Monsanto and Schmeiser and the biblical battle of David and Goliath seems accurate — as David had won, so did Schmeiser; not in court perhaps, but in global awareness and critical consciousness.

Seeds plays at The Centaur Theatre until Nov. 24. Find tickets at centaurtheatre.com/seeds.php

For further viewing, see The World According to Monsanto, directed by Marie-Monique Robin:

 

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