Saturday, November 17, 2012

Seed: A Weird Act of Faith by Sigrid Gilmer

by Joe Straw

Norman Ernest Borlaug (March 25, 1914 – September 12, 2009) is credited with saving a billion lives across the world.  He received his Ph.D. in plant pathology and genetics from the University of Minnesota in 1942.  He also received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his contribution to the world food supply.  - Narrator

Pete Wilson was my band teacher at New Providence Jr. High School.   His groomed pencil thin mustache was as wide as the baton he angrily banged against a metal music stand saying:  “This band is only as good as your worst player”.  I disagree, I believe you are at your best, when working as part of a team, and you are inspired to rise to the level of your best player.  

Seed:  A Weird Act of Faith by Sigrid Gilmer and directed by Shishir Kurup is being presented by the Cornerstone Theater Company at the Chuco’s Justice Center, 1137 E. Redondo Blvd. Inglewood, CA  90302.

When one ventures to see the Cornerstone Theatre Company, one has to take into consideration that all the actors are not all professionals.  Some actors are hired from the community and those actors are intersperced among more experienced actors.  This is a very good way to introduce the world of acting to a diverse community.

So, someone venturing into this world of theatre must consider the range of experience when seeing a Cornerstone theatrical production. (Cafe Vida was exceptional!) Avid theatergoers may have trepidations, but those see value to helping themselves to a bit of social consciousness may appreciate all Cornerstone has to offer. Sometimes it works other times not so effective.  And I’ll get to that not so effective, later.

The play starts with the cock crowing, somewhere in South Los Angeles, the sun coming out and store owners, Mom (Maria Cano) and Pop (LA Hopi) opening up their store and getting ready for the day. Pop kisses Mom and leaves for places unknown and then re-appears at the end of the day.

There are video footages throughout this play starting when the “History of Agriculture” is projected on a screen and we learn about this history through the story of the hunters and the gatherers.  They are cute little people carrying spears and wearing animal loins.  When the hunters run out of food, the gatherers find something they all can eat. They call the food “whatever”. (Weird.) They also find the food grows again in the places where they have gone to the bathroom.  They gain knowledge of what is growing all around them.

Present day South Los Angeles is now a food desert and two “Gods” E. (Gilbert Molina) and Xochi (Thabisile Griggin) bet against one other that this land cannot be cultivated into food. Xochi will destroy the world on December 21, 2012 (rings a bell for Mayan calendar end-of-the-world enthusiasts) if this barren land cannot be converted. E. is a little more optimistic about the inhabitants of South Los Angeles.

Well, as faith would have it, various people come to work the land and make food and without knowing it, try to destroy the plans of the evil God, Xochi. Farmer (Lorinda Hawkins) lies in her soil after having a “Dear Jane” post-it note stuck to her large growing broccoli, Broc (Joel Jimenez).  A little more weirdness!

Meanwhile Xochi is busy helping herself to the “Spicy Bobs” (a spicy Cheetos like substance) and getting larger each time she reappears.

Keisha (Adanna Kenlow) and Desmond Styles (Flores) meet, under the moon, on virgin soil knowing their act will create good soil for their crops.  

Across the globe, somewhere in Iraq, an Iraqi man hiding is carrying seeds in his hands.   He tells the American soldier (Martin Lemus, Jr.) to keep the seeds.

Naturally, CEO (Marcenus “MC” Earl), head of Monsanto-like Dillagraf, is busy producing talking points on chemically biogenetic engineered foods. He speaks about industrial agriculture that won’t taste any better but will feed the hungry masses.  (Just what we need!)  

Keisha says she wants to grow her own and she wants it to be organic. She wants to feed great tasting food to those who need it.

Meanwhile the Gods reappear and want to keep an eye on these growers.  And they do this by posing as students filming a documentary.  

Lorinda Hawkins plays farmer. She is an extraordinary actress with a remarkable voice.  She can only wallow in her garden hoping she is doing the right thing. She is degraded and demoralized by finding the post-it note on her broccoli, still she knows what she is doing is for the greater good.

Joel Jimenez plays Broc.  And I know it’s tough establishing a relationship with anyone when you’re a plant growing in the field, but it is a job that must be realized. I enjoyed Jimenez’s performance and I always thought a broccoli character as being sarcastic in thought as was delightfully portrayed.  

Obi Ndefo was outstanding as Don Henry, a spiritual leader of the group.  He is one who sees the future but cannot articulate it.  His relationship with the Gods should have more depth, since he is the one with the vision.  He is the sententious puppet trying to find a way to make his mark in the group. His characters were all wonderfully thought out and a joy to watch.

Desmond Styles as Flores also did a very nice job and has a very good look for other forms of media as well.

Adanna Kenlow as Keisha was very funny and was someone who knows her craft.  

Marcenus “MC” Earl as the CEO also did a very nice job in his role in his honest portrayal of a man who works for a devious food corporation.   

Other members of the cast are Mario Cano, Jennifer Garcia, Thabisile Griffin, René Günter, LA Hopi, Martin Lemus Jr., Bianca Molina, Gilbert Molina, Dyane Pascall, Lupita Salazar, Neelam Sharma, and David Weinstein was an understudy.

Farms are like relationships; it takes a lot of work to keep them moving in the right direction.  And the craft of acting is the same, a lot of hard work, to keep the career moving in the right course. But actors work at their craft for satisfaction and the chance for paying jobs.  They should also have their photographs in the program (if economically feasible) and especially have their character’s name beside their name. The actors play for the opportunity to be seen and they should be afforded the recognition.

There are some really wonderful moments in Sigrid Gilmer’s play but overall the play seemed like a work-in-progress, an inchoate idea still in development.  Some characters are multi-dimensional, other not.  The lives of the characters did not connect, was not cohesive, and did not move the action to the denouement.   Their lives were separate entities, living an existence, within their inner circle, rarely having a change in relationships, and rarely bonding with others with the same goal in mind. Some are articulate with mics, others not so articulate even with the mics. The Farmer has little or no relationship with Broc even though he is the biggest weirdest singing thing in her garden. Seed is probably the best title of this play.  Take the “Weird” out of the title because even though it is odd, it’s best not to let the audience in on this little secret.  Let the message come out in the play, this is a show where things needs to be discovered.

Shirshir Kurup, the director, has a lot going on in this production and it is possibly too much to keep focus of the play.  There are obese puppets, video, singing broccoli, and dancing and nothing leads us to that moment that captures what this production is trying to say. There is a time element involved as well but we never see the characters fighting against the clock, or aware of the clock for that matter. We saw plenty of fake dirt, but hardly anything grows on stage.  There are rows and rows of food growing on a still photo, but they never get past the baby stage and we never get a sense that they grew any food at all. Also, there were a lot of risers on stage accomplishing little. Every scene change had little or no focus and we could have done without 90% of those risers.  Lots of artificial dirt on stage, smoke for no reason (odd but the smoke smelled like my cafe mocha in the morning). Most actors were wearing mics; instead the money could have been better spent giving voice lessons to those actors that needed it.  Also the mics were not seen in the videos and while it was an interesting idea, really didn’t work.
I'm not picking on Cornerstone here but a little symbolism goes a long way.  Get rid of the mics, the videos, the risers, and concentrate on the story and the acting.

The other member of the crew were:
Frederica Nascimento – Scenic Desing
Raquel M. Barrento - Costume Design
Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz – Lighting Design
Colbert Davis – Sound Design
Tom Ontiveros – Projection Design
Lynn Jeffries – Puppet Design (Nice work!)
Sean T. Cawelti – Props Design
Nikki Hyde – Stage Manager
Melody Kanschat – Executive Producer
Jon Neustadter, Margaret Leong Checca – Producers

Go.  Take someone who likes to plant food and watch things grow.

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