(photo via website)Percy Schmeiser: heroic David or crooked farmer?
Food for thought at the latest incarnation of Seeds
by Sarah Deshaies
Who is Percy Schmeiser?
The septuagenarian canola farmer based in Bruno, Saskatchewan was sued in 1988 by biotech giant Monsanto for illegally growing their patented seeds; his fame (and infamy) grew as he fought back against the company over several years, resulting in a landmark 2004 Supreme Court Decision.
“He’s become something of a folk hero in some circles, playing the role of David to Monsanto’s Goliath. He’s often quoted in the press and is a frequent speaker around the world at events hosted by groups opposed to agricultural biotechnology,” reads the company’s corporate website. “The truth is Percy Schmeiser is not a hero.”
But wait - that will be up to you, the audience member, not the media, Monsanto or the legal system - to decide.
Porte Parole artistic director and Montreal playwright Annabel Soutar decided to put this question in the hands of theatregoers with her hit, acclaimed documentary project, which was named 2005’s Best English Production by the Association québécoise des critiques de théâtre. Now recalibrated and primed for a tour of Canadian stages, Seeds is once again probing our minds over the use and safety of genetically modified organisms.
An oft-repeated feature of Seeds is that each line in the script was spoken, at some time, by someone, and is thus an accurate representation of the lawsuit and fallout, though Soutar is careful to weave in her own skepticism throughout the play as the playwright.
While the myriad factoids and characters are a lot to digest, and the show feels rather long, it’s all food for thought in the most classic sense of the expression. Is Schmeiser a David and folk hero or a small-time miser out to sow seeds of discontent? Are GMOs a true threat to food security or another way to feed a growing planet?
Seeds runs until November 24.