“I love to ask questions,” says Sea Sick‘s Alanna Mitchell, who is at pains to point out she’s a journalist, not an actor. The daughter of a scientist and an artist, she grew up with a love not only of facts but also of storytelling, which must have stood her in good stead in her 14 years at the Globe and Mail. “Science gives us facts but not necessarily meaning,” she says.
She brings the two of them together with quiet artistry in a show that’s more TED Talk than play, but no less urgent for it. Whatever her day job, you’d hardly know it from her compelling performance. Kicking off in friendly, conversational mode, she explains how a chance observation while researching a book about Charles Darwin alerted her to the great emergency of our age. “This is my Extinction Rebellion,” she says, arguing that while most of the debate about climate change focuses on the land, it’s the oceans where the truly dramatic stuff is happening.
If life were wiped out above sea level, it could continue in the water. The same is not true in reverse. And yet, as she discovers in her journalistic quest, meeting more than a dozen marine biologists around the world, it’s sea life that is most threatened. Taking to a blackboard, she relates the scary statistics of rising pH numbers and carbon dioxide levels, describing the catastrophic impact of even small variations in the ocean’s acidification.
This might have come across as dry as it is alarming, but, in an unobtrusive production by Franco Boni with Ravi Jain for Toronto’s Theatre Centre, the softly spoken Mitchell makes it personal. Just before she plunges to the darkest depths of the sea, she hits her own depths of despair, sunk by the weight of her discovery. If her final message of forgiveness is not exactly upbeat, it nonetheless challenges us to write a happy ending of our own.