Theater: San Francisco Mime Troupe's Playful Look at Biotechnology
The Tony Award-winning San Francisco Mime Troupe (SFMT) came to St. Louis this past October 5th and 6th with its hit musical comedy satire Eating It. A thought-provoking and humorous look at the dark specter of market-driven genetic engineering, the play embodies the political wit that has earned the anything but silent Troupe national and international acclaim for more than four decades.
The SFMT performance of a play that questions the integrity of the biotechnology industry could not be more timely. The EPA is reviewing the registration of Bt crops such as corn, cotton and potatoes. Bt crops have been genetically engineered to contain a pesticide. Bt corn has been found in several studies to be harmful to Monarch butterfly larvae, and pollen drift from Bt crops has contaminated nearby traditional varieties of corn. The decision on whether to re-register the crops is expected in mid-October. (For more information visit the EPAs website at www.epa.gov/pesticides/biopesticides.)
The issue of government collusion with the biotechnology industry is raised in SFMT's play, and is a very viable issue in the St. Louis area. In early November, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is due to open across the street from Monsanto's world headquarters in Creve Coeur. This center has been subsidized by $25 million in tax subsidies, and represents a huge public handout to biotechnology corporations.
Eating It is a science fiction satire set in the immediate future. Protagonists Synthia and Isaac Albright are genetic engineers and creators of Super Corn, a genetically engineered vegetable. The patent on Super Corn has made them famous and garnered them the full support of a corporation named "BobCo".
Now Synthia is working on an even more powerful seed, one she hopes will end world hunger, and Isaac knows will make them wealthy. The new seed seems to offer an extraordinary opportunity for good (and to make enormous profit), but before it is to be released at the World Food Conference, Synthia is having second thoughts about its impact on the environment.
With protesters in the streets, the President preparing to become "the man who fed the world," and the CEO from BobCo controlling events for his economic advantage, a mysterious Old Man arrives, desperate to stop Synthia from releasing Super Corn. Is he some Luddite nut? Or is he really from the future where the world has been ravage by mutant plants, genetic contamination and reduced to a barren wasteland?
"Eating It asks the question, "Are we at the day after Trinity" in regard to genetic engineering?" said Dan Chumley, the shows director.
Michael Gene Sullivan, the shows head writer, added ominously, "Now is the time, and perhaps our last chance to act, before we poison the world."
Never a company to stray away form large political questions, the SFMT has been producing socially relevant theater since 1959. The Troupe has been called "the most established anti-establishment theater" in the United States.