Alanna Mitchell brings scientific perspective to Intrepid Theatre

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Science, journalism, activism, and theatre — there’s something for everyone in Alanna Mitchell’s one-woman show Sea Sick, which ran May 13–14 at Metro Studio.

Mitchell’s self-written and produced monologue, based on her book of the same name, is part of Uno Fest, a series of solo shows mounted by Intrepid Theatre. This is Uno Fest’s eighteenth year, featuring local acts like Mike Delamont’s popular God Is a Scottish Drag Queen, as well as performers from across Canada — even one from the U.K.

Torontonian Mitchell subtitles her show The Global Ocean In Crisis, but the content proves much more complex. Mitchell begins by spinning recollections of her Regina childhood with memories of her scientist father and a fascination with Charles Darwin. Though long-winded, her upbringing is the anchor to which the entire show is tethered.

She moves on to her journalism career. Today, Mitchell covers mostly science-based topics as a freelancer and has written for publications like Canadian Geographic and The Globe and Mail. In Sea Sick, she travels back to the early interviews with scientists that spurred her ocean research.

She tells several intertwined stories: watching a once-a-year “orgy” of coral reproduction; the horrors of oxygen-deprived water due to discarded fertilizer; and a terrifying journey to three thousand feet underwater, which culminates in her urinating on a world-class submarine engineer.

Evocative language paints vivid images of Mitchell’s world. Her description of “the blob,” a dead zone in the Mediterranean caused by decomposing creatures, is an emotional punch to the gut. Mitchell makes us care, and it affirms the success of the show.

However, the performance could easily pass for a TED Talk, complete with an inspirational concluding message. Mitchell uses a few props; she has a glass and pitcher of clear liquid. The glass contains water, and in a nice visual twist, the pitcher is filled with vinegar in which she dissolves a piece of chalk — it’s what happens to sea creatures’ bones as acid levels rise. With the chalk, Mitchell writes stats and data on a blackboard behind her — a rare break from her speech that allows the audience to absorb and regroup.

Mitchell is a great writer, and the premise of being a journalist who needs to tell a story works well. That the show is a way to deliver the story — to fulfill her commitment to journalistic integrity — resonates. She asks the full house to forgive themselves for what they’ve done to the planet, and suggests that letting go of guilt will lead to solutions. But she could use a few more theatrical conventions to justify Sea Sick’s presence here rather than the lecture hall.

Uno Fest continues this weekend, but if you can’t make it, there’s also OUTstages, “Victoria’s first queer theatre festival,” to look forward to from July 5–12, and the Victoria Fringe Festival in late August and early September. Visit intrepidtheatre.com for more information.

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