— Patrick Sabongui. Photo Credit: Nicole Gurney
INSIDE THE SEED
Jason Patrick Rothery’s play about corporate corruption and threats posed to the world food supply by agribusiness and its pervasive, invasive technologies opens with a long, theatrically boring expository phone call and ends with an unrealistic series of melodramatic scenes. But in between, it tells a pretty powerful story about what might happen—and on a smaller scale, what probably is happening.
Richard Wolfe’s Upintheair Theatre production features an ensemble of excellent performances and a semi-successful attempt to give a pretty straightforward and sometimes structurally clunky realist drama an expressionistic dimension.
Inside the Seed centres on Foster Bryant (Patrick Sabongui), an ambivalent capitalist, CEO of a large corporation that manufactures genetically modified seed. Bryant is on the verge of a giant deal whereby his seed will be imported by every country in Africa. In one breath Bryant wants to feed the world and end starvation; in another he’s interested in bringing big profits to the company (he has bought an Old Masters painting for his office for $117 million!); in yet another he’s compensating for his scientist father, who worked on the Manhattan Project, then late in life turned against atomic energy and the science that produced the A-bomb.
Bryant’s wife Isobel (Mia K. Ingimundson) is pregnant with twins, one of which may have a birth defect. That unfortunate prospect looms larger when Bryant is visited by a farm-wife (Tamara McCarthy) who claims that Bryant’s seed caused terrible birth defects in her child. And when he’s visited by the aide to a US Senator (the actor unfortunately uncredited), who claims that Bryant’s company has a contract with the military to provide chemical defoliants for use in Afghanistan. And when a discredited former employee (Tetsuro Shigematsu) tells Bryant that the seed may indeed be toxic.
Mediating between Bryant (who seems unbelievably naïve for a corporate maser of the universe) and his clients is Machiavellian company exec Cole (Carl Kennedy). If there were a door on Jergus Oprsal’s tiny Cultch Studio set representing Bryant’s office, it would be revolving.
Wolfe has his entire cast remain sitting onstage when not in a scene, and they often respond gesturally, as if in a choral commentary, by leaning forward towards a character. Sometimes their choral gestures are accompanied by Jordan Lloyd Watkins’ sound effects, which are used far too liberally throughout the piece.
Whatever the weaknesses of the script or the heavy-handedness of its symbolism (Bryant’s painting is a biblical scene—the massacre of the innocents), the chilling point of Rothery’s play comes through loud and clear. The genie is out of the bottle, or out of the seed, and there’s no putting it back inside.