Inside the Seed takes on big issues
By Jason Patrick Rothery. Directed by Richard Wolfe. An Upintheair Theatre production, presented by the Cultch. At the Vancity Culture Lab on Wednesday, October 2. Continues until October 12
Inside the Seed exists in an odd no man’s land between documentary and drama. It’s a diverting but ultimately unsatisfying place to spend an evening.
With Inside the Seed, Toronto playwright Jason Patrick Rothery takes on the freighted topic of genetically modified food. A guy named Foster Bryant heads Demetech, a company that has developed a strain of rice tit's calling the Golden Grain. Bryant is committed to saving people from starvation and Demetech is shipping 100,000 tons of grain to Africa. But on the day of transport, he receives a visit from a farmer who claims that her baby was deformed by the product. And as he digs, he discovers deeper ethical compromise within his corporation.
Now, there’s a real-world product called Golden Rice. Monsanto holds the patent. Frankly, if Inside the Seedwants to talk about Golden Rice, I’d rather get the real-world science and politics without the obscuring veil of dramatization. Seriously thinking about Golden Rice requires firm footing in a form that doesn’t allow audience members to simply indulge their biases. (The play’s verdict on the Golden Grain is clear.) Rothery didn’t know about Golden Rice when he started this project, but still.
Despite this conceptual murkiness, the writing is strong in many ways. Our views of characters shift as information is revealed: that’s a sophisticated accomplishment. And there are some great lines: threatening Bryant and his company, a messenger from the military says, “You guys are more fucked than an asshole in dick town.”
Director Richard Wolfe’s mounting of the play’s premiere is assured. I very much appreciated Carl Kennedy’s work as Bryant’s associate, Cole. This actor inhabits his characters so thoroughly and confidently that you can’t help but relax when he’s on-stage. Patrick Sabongui also impresses with his subtle, strong, intelligent Bryant. And Jerguš Opršal delivers an upscale corporate set in a few masterly strokes.
Still, melodramatic and illogical at times, the centre of the production, the script, doesn’t always hold. We’re supposed to believe that Bryant is ethical, but if that’s the case, how could he be so disengaged from the science upon which his company is based? And it’s ridiculous to think that, with a simple psychological insight, he could force one of his major opponents, an anti–GMO activist, into profound compromise.
Inside the Seed embraces some complexity, but not enough to hold a clear mirror to reality.