FEBRUARY 2022 | Volume 212
Alanna Mitchell. Photo by Alejandro Santiago.
Alanna Mitchell’s monologue Sea Sick opens with the ominous words, “I’m not an actor.” She also explains that she’s not a scientist. She’s a journalist, and the story she tells over the next 65 minutes, based on her 2009 bestseller, Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis, is a journalist’s journey through science and the world’s oceans to understand the apocalyptic effects of global warming on ocean temperatures.
The facts themselves are terrifying, or should be. As the oceans absorb more and more CO2 from the atmosphere, and their temperature keeps rising, the world seems headed straight for another Mass Extinction. The previous one occurred 65 million years ago. Because the facts and statistics themselves are so patently damning, perhaps the makers of this show thought it was not really necessary for Mitchell to deliver them dramatically. She is a good storyteller. She’s relaxed and articulate, and has been telling this story on stage since 2014.
But this is billed as a theatrical event. And she is not an actor. Nor have Toronto’s Theatre Centre directors Franco Boni and Ravi Jain given her much in the way of design elements to work with besides a blackboard, chalk, a pitcher of vinegar, and some snippets of a Bob Dylan soundtrack. The logic seems to be: Why sugarcoat the pill. Give it to them straight.
So Mitchell tells us about the scientists she has met and what they have told her.She recounts her first-hand experiences of dying coral reefs and oceanic dead zones. She puts diagrams and numbers on the blackboard and explains their significance in terms of the oceans’ changing chemistry. She drops a piece of chalk into the pitcher of vinegar, and we see what acidic ocean water does to shellfish.
Earlier, talking about the influence of her science professor father and artist mother on her, Mitchell asserts that science provides the facts but art is necessary to explain what they mean. I appreciated getting the horrifying facts from this cross between a Ted Talk and a Fringe show. But I missed the rich theatrical art that could make those facts so visceral and memorable that we might be moved to act on them.Sea Sick is the first of six shows between now and the end of March that comprise The Cultch’s Femme Festival: “Highlighting the strength and power of female-identifying voices.”
get in touch with vancouverplays:
Vancouver's arts and culture website providing theatre news, previews and reviews