Inside The Seed

Carl Kennedy and Patrick Sabongui Credit: Daniel Martin
Carl Kennedy (left) and Patrick Sabongui
Credit: Daniel Martin

At Vancity Culture Lab at The Cultch until October 12

Posted October 4, 2013

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that with the huge amount and variety of food available to us, we find ourselves scrutinizing labels as if our very lives depended upon it. In my extended family, two are allergic to wheat, one is caffeine-sensitive, one can’t drink red wine, one is vegan and three are on the cusp of veganism (they eat fish), one is a half-assed vegetarian, none eat farmed-fish and several eat only organic. The grocery store has become a minefield. What’s going on?

What’s going on is what Inside The Seed is all about. Written by Jason Patrick Rothery, this is a scathing look at a fictitious corporation so large it has lost track of its subsidiaries. While one part of the company is growing genetically modified rice, another is manufacturing defoliants. It’s about a corporation eager to ship 100,000 tons of its ‘Golden Rice’ to Africa without knowing  – or caring – about the “statistically insignificant” incidents of birth defects the product causes. The information that these defects are “locked” – that is, the defect is passed from parent to offspring and so on – has also been suppressed.

Tamara McCarthy (centre) Credit: Daniel Martin
Tamara McCarthy (centre)
Credit: Daniel Martin

This rivetting piece of theatre is superbly directed by Richard Wolfe for Upintheair Theatre on a simple but very effective set designed by Jerguš Opršal. The Culture Lab has been re-configured for this show with two banks of opposing seats and a narrow alley between. At one end is Peter Paul Rubens’ masterpiece, The Slaughter of The Innocents – recently purchased for the corporate offices of Demetech. CEO Foster Bryant sits at the opposite end at a sleek, expensive-looking glass and steel desk. In between are eight log rounds of varying heights for the rest of the characters who remain on the set throughout. They watch, listen, lean in, and turn: they are a chorus of witnesses to all conversation that happen in that office. In turn, each one stands and moves forward to interact with Bryant and/or Cole, the corporation’s CFO.

Although it’s clear the playwright condemns corporations such as this, he sets up the debate fairly: millions of starving Africans will benefit from the shipment of the rice and Bryant (Patrick Sabongui) really does not know about the “statistically insignificant” birth defects. But there are others who do know and don’t care; or who know but are prepared to make a deal.

Adele Noronha, Mia K. Ingimudson  and Patrick Sabongui Credit: Daniel Martin
Adele Noronha, Mia K. Ingimudson
and Patrick Sabongui
Credit: Daniel Martin

This is a powerful cast of eight. Sabongui, as Foster Bryant, exudes brash confidence, having just spent $117 million on the painting. Mia K Ingimundson, as Bryant’s wife Isobel – over-40 and pregnant for the first time, is nervous, sexy and high-strung. Birth defects are already on this couple’s radar; Bryant makes sure Isobel has every possible pre-natal test. Chillingly suave and cool is Carl Kennedy as Demetech’s duplicitous CFO, the real villain of the piece although Dr. Vandalia Gilroy (Adele Noronha), an outspoken critic of GMO products, is a close second as she strikes a deadly deal with Bryant.

Speaking up for the victims of “poison food” is the appropriately named Susan Farmer (Tamara McCarthy), a woman from a farming family whose own crops have been contaminated by pollen carried by the wind from Demetech’s fields. McCarthy is passionate without raging – a strong and persuasive voice. Allison James is brisk and perky as Bryant’s secretary Ava; Tetsuro Shigematsu is the stoned and/or drunk, disgraced microbiologist Sampson Pai. Shigematsu’s opening night performance could be brought down a peg although we are familiar with Pai’s ‘type’. Making a brief but pivotal appearance at the end is Dallas Sauer as the reporter for Fortune magazine.

Inside The Seed is a compelling production of this world premiere. If you care about the food you eat – or the food our country ships to the Third World – put this one on your menu.