According to playwright Annabel Soutar, Seeds is a modern-day "David and Goliath story, the tale of the battle between Percy Schmeiser, an elderly farmer in Saskatchewan, and the multinational biotech corporation Monsanto." But this David and Goliath story accumulates one moral ambiguity after another as Soutar's script-which is faithfully based on conflicting interviews, court reports, and media presentations-proceeds. As played by David Ferry, Schmeiser initially comes off as a supremely sympathetic character. He's just a kindly old farmer who stumbled into a corporate lawsuit, right? Wrong. Or, well, sort of wrong. Schmeiser may actually be a liar, a megalomaniac, and a sociopath, and Chris Abraham's production has a few scenes of Citizen Kane -style speechifying that drive this point home. But Schmeiser, even at his most vehement, exudes a fair amount of folksy charm. And the folks at Monsanto might be actively (and underhandedly) undermining Schmeiser in order to protect their interests. So maybe there is no clear right or wrong in Seeds -just increasing, unresolvable complexity.
For me, complexity like this was a welcome relief. Especially in its first act, Seeds is a catalogue of the dramatic techniques I tend to loathe: audience interaction, cartoonish pants roles, actors driving around in "invisible" cars. All of this is rather cute, and cuteness is the last thing that a work of socially-aware documentary theater needs. The second-act snatches of sardonic humor work much better. At the very least, they don't threaten to reduce Schmeiser and his dubious struggle to excuses for onstage silliness.
Seeds is not a perfectly developed play. Yet some of the moments that seem incomplete or undeveloped are also the moments that give this drama so much of its intellectual resonance-a resonance that too much development, come to think of it, might have killed. The second act, for instance, seems spare and streamlined compared to the first. There are fewer props and partitions, and it wouldn't be wrong of you to expect fewer narrative distractions, too. But there are distractions from Schmeiser's descent into unreliability, from a nighttime exploration of Schmeiser's beloved farm to episodes from the life of a pregnant playwright (Liisa Repo-Martell) modeled on Soutar herself. All of this does sound a tad sentimental. However, all of this is also a touching indication that Seeds aspires to something more than easy coherence, that Soutar is guided by something better than a slogan or a plot diagram. A play that's politically engaged doesn't need to be ideologically small-minded. A play that revolves around a single issue doesn't need to ignore the larger panorama of lived reality.