Review: SEA SICK

by Lynn on March 20, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Sea Sick

At the spanking newly renovated Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St.   W. Written and performed by Alanna Mitchell. Directed by Franco Boni with Ravi Jain. Designed by Shawn Kerwin. Lighting by Rebecca Picherack. Sound by Tim Lindsay.

Plays at the Theatre Centre until March 23.

Alanna Mitchell has always been curious. She comes by it honestly. Her father is a scientist. Her mother is an artist. Mitchell grew up in the prairies. Dinner table discussions were lively and full of questions. While she has a degree in Latin (!) she has made her living as a science journalist for the Globe and Mail. She has written three books on various scientific issues. But she got the biggest story of her career when she quit the Globe and began investigating how the global ocean is changing and why it matters. She wrote a book about it entitled: “Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis.” She has adapted it for the stage and the result is Sea Sick

Actually I think Sea Sick is more accurately a TED lecture than a play. In a play, even in a one person play, the story would reveal different stories or characters in opposition; two or more protagonists want the same thing for different reasons and so tension results. That’s not what’s happening in Sea Sick. In Sea Sick Mitchell reports that the global ocean is in crisis, dying if you will, and if it goes we all do. She notes that everything on land can be destroyed but the oceans will not be affected. But if it is the reverse—that all life dies in the ocean then we are doomed. The air will be compromised; our food; ecosystems, everything. No opposition from anyone in the theatre, and she takes the rest of the time to prove her case.

Mitchell does not start out all doom and gloom. She is a charming story-teller. She tells stories of her family full of affection, love and respect. She tells how her father took her out on expeditions across the prairie, told her the name of the plants both their Latin and ‘familiar’ names. Her mother painted them.

She says that science gives us the knowledge, but art gives that knowledge meaning. She uses a wonderful example. She plays three notes of music explaining how the sound is made and how many decibels in each note are played per second. On their own those notes mean nothing. But in the hands and musical mind of Bob Dylan he takes those notes and writes “The Times, They Are A Changin’, one of the most prescient, perceptive songs of warning of our times.

Mitchell came to her calling, to bring attention to the subject of the ocean in crisis , by mistake. She was devoted to Darwin and his theories and wanted to go to the various lands/islands where his experiments took place. But then she met Silvia Earl, a leading authority on the ocean, on one of her trips, who told her the real story was the ocean and its crisis. Ever curious, Mitchell changed her focus. It’s interesting that most of the experts she met along her journey are women.

In clear language, a tempered delivery (she is microphoned, she reminds us she’s not an actress) and many funny observations and self-deprecating remarks, she tells her story without haranguing desperation.

The facts and information are sobering if not frightening. The ocean is warming up. This impacts various life forms that need colder water to live. Many die. The water is becoming more acid—like vinegar. This impacts the shells of many species. See her experiment with a piece of chalk dropped in a beaker of vinegar for the full effect. And the ocean is loosing its breath (Oxygen).  But Mitchell informs her audience in a way that is not alarmist—a neat feat. Mitchell ends her discourse in an interesting way—not on a note of doom, but something else entirely. And something to really think hard about.

One might say her story and her theme are life changing. They changed the life of Franco Boni, when he first heard Mitchell workshop her piece two years ago. It was profound enough to make him want to direct it himself (with help from Ravi Jain) and important enough a story that he programmed it to be the opening production of the newly renovated Theatre Centre.

Boni directs the piece with subtlety and spareness. There is nothing fussy in the delivery or his staging of Mitchell. The ‘lecture-play’ begins in full light (Rebecca Picherack) but then gradually dims so that the audience is in darkness and the stage is lit. At various times the lights will go up on the audience to make a point. Effective, that.

Lecture? Play? No matter, Sea Sick is a huge story that affects us all. It’s important to hear it, especially from such a quietly passionate, gifted story-teller like Alanna Mitchell.

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