A few days late to the newest show at the NAC…sorry about that, but even the National Arts Center takes a distant second to my Nieces Brynn and Clara when they’re performing in the church play, which I just HAD to check out last week. You’ll be happy and relieved to know they killed it, and they absolutely owned that production of HURRY ON DOWN, the touching story of some trivial bit character from the bible that you’ve never heard of. Zachias? Something like that. They took the material and ran with it, is what I’m saying. My nieces are the most amazing people EVER.
But eventually, the pull of the NAC managed to bring me back, and with the amazing Nancy Kenny as my galpal for the evening, we made it in for the start of week two for SEEDS, Annabel Soutar’s documentary/verbatim show about the (in)famous court case of Monsanto v. Schmeiser. Percy Schmeiser, that is, portrayed in this most excellent production by the legend Eric Peterson, notable in Canada for his Gas Cornering and Street Legalling. Coming from Porte Parole outta Montreal and directed by Chris Abraham, SEEDS follows both Percy (Peterson) and the playwright herself, played by Christine Bealieu, as she conducts interviews and examines court transcripts to turn this story into a piece of theatre. Not that it needs much of a push…the real-life battle between Schmeiser, a lifelong canola farmer in a tiny town in Saskatchewan, and bipolar corporate giant Monsanto, as successful as they are despised, is plenty dramatic by itself. Monsanto insists that Schmeiser has stolen some of their genetically modified seeds for use on his farm, while he insists that he has no idea how any of them made it onto his land. As the case goes on and on, the battle turns less into an infringement issue, and becomes a global ethical dilemma about the nature of life itself, with Percy becoming something of a folk hero on the farmers’ rights frontlines, much to Monsanto’s annoyance.
The cast is excellent across the board, and yes, Peterson himself is just goddamn splendid as pigheaded Percy, refusing to back down an inch from his stand (even when doubt about his claims start to creep in in act 2). He has many great moments, especially a great speech about the attraction of farming, and the singular wonder of the seed itself:
Okay, I don’t actually have the right clip, but you get the gist. The rest of the troupe (Bruce Dinsmore, Mariah Inger, Alex Ivanovici, Tanja Jacobs and Cary Lawrence) fill out the sprawling storyline as a half dozen different characters each, from aggressive Monsanto lawyers to research scientists, farmhands, Percy’s wife Louise, and a particularly enthusiastic nun. It’s a dynamic and fun show to watch, making great hay out of the rich material at hand, including an ethical dilemma or two encountered by the playwright herself during the process. It’s as educational and eye-opening as it is entertaining. Video projection backdrops are used to great effect throughout, amid a sprawling multi-use set from Julie Fox. A lot of people will just come to see this show for Eric Peterson, and that’s just fine…but they’re going to come away with a whole lot more. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)
PS Shoutout to the lone Monsanto booster in the audience the night we attended, who would applaud all by his/her lonesome anytime something went well for the corporate giant in the play. Nice to see that, even in theatre, someone out there is rooting for the overdog.