What’s really on your dinner plate? A mutant organism? Some accuse the multinational Monsanto of being a latter-day Frankenstein that has lost control of the genetically modified offspring it has let loose, mutations that end up in your local supermarket. Its response? Exert even more control. When a Saskatchewan farmer decides to fight back, a four-year court case ensues. Be thrice forewarned. One, every word spoken onstage is a verbatim quote. Two, this is more complicated than David versus Goliath. And three, one story may conceal another, much more ominous tale.
Annabel Soutar and her company Porte Parole have returned to an explosive topic first broached in an initial version of Seeds in 2005, raising questions that continue to spark debate. In conjunction with the ingenious Toronto director Chris Abraham, she is once again letting farmers, researchers, lawyers, Monsanto public relations reps and activists have their say, each one playing the role assigned him or her in the grand theatre that is the modern economy.
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Shifting the Focus
In January 2000, an atypical play entitled Novembre appeared on the Studio stage at Monument National, with sixteen actors speaking the exact words of several different individual voices recorded during the 1998 Quebec election campaign. Written by Annabel Soutar and directed by Alex Ivanovici (the co-directors of the company), Porte Parole made an impressive début with that piece. That play was indicative of the company’s artistic approach – collecting quotes, carefully editing the material so that several different points of view are heard, highlighting the ambiguous nature of social and political issues and digging beneath the surface to get at what is really at stake, with a perspective of social awareness where spectators become engaged citizens. Porte Parole has presented plays about financial markets (2000 Questions, 2002), Algerian immigration (Montréal la Blanche, 2004), trade between Canada and China (Import/Export, 2008) and the state of local road infrastructures (Sexy béton, 2009-2010). The company’s main writer, Annabel Soutar, was born in Montreal and studied documentary theatre with Emily Mann at Princeton University.
For this production Porte Parole is working for the first time with Chris Abraham, the artistic director of Crow’s Theatre in Toronto. A wide-ranging artist, he is committed to exploring social and political issues and has staged diverse works by playwrights from Sophocles to John Mighton by way of Ionesco, giving theatrical shape to philosophical questions and contemporary political issues.
“How often do we get the opportunity to wrap our heads around the big questions of our time and really flex that muscle between our ears? Seeds is that opportunity. It is a stunning and vastly important piece of documentary theatre by the much-admired Montreal playwright Annabel Soutar”
Allan Gould, postcity.com
“Soutar has done such a good job sowing the seeds of doubt that you wonder if this is nothing more than passionate rhetoric. Her play gives us plenty to think about, but leaves us to make up our own minds...”
Martin Morrow, The Globe and Mail, 23 février 2012
“As narrative, [Annabel Soutar’s] script is both thoughtful and exciting; it makes the science fairly clear and the personal issues convincingly complex. The play has been masterfully staged by Chris Abraham. […] The whole is one of the most impressive docu-dramas I’ve seen.”
Robert Cushman, National Post, 25 février 2012
“Everything works – the actors and their multiple character, Abraham’s complex staging. Julie Fox’s imaginative set, Elysha Poirier’s visuals, Richard Feren’s atmospheric stage designs, Ana Cappelluto’s precision lighting. This is a scintillating evening of theatre. You’ll leave the play in energetic conversation with your fellows.”
Paula Citron, paulacitron.ca, 29 février 2012
“Soutar shows how messy and far-reaching controversies in Big Science have become, and how the restructuring of age-old relationships by new biotechnologies is being enforced and resisted. She wisely avoids heaping all the criticism on Monsanto, questioning Schmeiser’s motives and story as well.”
Jordan Bimm, Now Toronto, 29 février 2012
“Although I'm not fan of documentary drama, I was completely enthralled. Having missed the debut of Seeds in Montreal in 2005, I cannot say to what degree this new production is a reinvention of the old. But it's got a hybrid style of its own that blends stellar performances, audience participation and beautiful design (by Julie Fox), in its journalistic quest for the whole, scientifically complicated truth. Like John Mighton's Scientific Americans, Seeds questions the morality of unbridled scientific innovation, while acknowledging the importance of progress. Thinker's theatre.”
Pat Donnelly, The Gazette, 3 mars 2012
PRODUCED BY Porte Parole + Crow’s Theatre
DIRECTED BY Chris Abraham
WRITTEN BY Annabel Soutar
WITH Bruce Dinsmore + David Ferry + Mariah Inger + Alex Ivanovici + Tanja Jacobs + Cary Lawrence + Liisa Repo-Martell
LIGHTING DESIGN Ana Cappelluto
SET AND COSTUME DESIGN Julie Fox
SOUND DESIGN AND COMPOSER Richard Feren
VIDEO PROJECTION AND MEDIA DESIGN Elysha Poirier
WITH THE SUPPORT OF Hexagram + Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal
WRITTEN BY Paul Lefebvre
TRANSLATED BY Neil Kroetsch
Premiered at Young Center for the Performing Arts, Toronto, February 18, 2012
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED / FESTIVAL TRANSAMÉRIQUES