MONTREAL — The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind — or is it?
“Seeds,” which debuts tonight at the Centaur Theatre, explores the case of when farmer Percy Schmeiser was sued for patent infringement by food giant Monsanto for using their genetically modified canola seeds. Schmeiser claims they blew onto his land courtesy of Mother Nature.
“This was a major legal battle, and it plays out in a very intriguing way on the stage,” said playwright and Montreal native Annabel Soutar. “Of course the audience comes into the play thinking, ‘Oh, it’s the little farmer versus the big multi-national.’ But there’s this narrative, and there’s this fantastic twist to this tale that is very unexpected.”
A twist that may very well dispel the classic David and Goliath battle.
“And one that offers a more nuanced picture,” Soutar said.
The case happened in the late 1990s and went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Soutar says the world was watching.
“This was the first time that a Monsanto patent had been challenged in a high court,” she said.
Soutar first heard of the case in the newspaper.
“And I had absolutely no idea what it was talking about — a patent on a gene that was inserted into the cell that was found growing in someone’s canola field. I just had all these questions firing away in my head,” Soutar said. “And as soon as I become really curious about something, I just can’t stop myself from researching it.”
The more she researched, the more Soutar realized she had a dramatic story on her hands. As with all of her plays, Soutar took a documentary-style approach.
“So everything you hear on stage is verbatim out of the mouths of people that I interviewed,” she said. For the work, Soutar interviewed Schmeiser, and was even able to get Monsanto to talk to her. Other dialogue comes from the original Saskatoon court-case transcripts.