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Vavilov's Garden

by Mark Eckard
directed by Joshua Wolf Coleman

SCIENCE UNDER SIEGE: A staged reading of "Vavilov's Garden" by Mark Eckard + discussion with plant cryopreservationist Dr. Raquel Folgado from The Huntington Library, Art Collection, and Botanical Gardens

Saturday, April 22, 2017 (Earth Day)
Ramo Auditorium

Tickets at the door; suggested donation to Theater Arts Caltech $5-$25

  • Food truck / coffee / pre-show conservation with the playwright: 6:00 p.m.
  • Performance: 7:00 p.m. followed by a post show discussion

Leningrad, December 1941. During the seige of the city by Nazi Germany, a group of Soviet scientists struggle to preserve a seed bank started by Nikolai Vavilov, a prominent plant geneticist. As starvation sets in, the scientists split into two factions, one that wants to eat the seeds and tubers to survive, and the other that sees the preservation of the genebank as a nobler goal to be achieved at all costs. Aside from German bombing, the scientists face another enemy: Vavilov has been arrested and held incommunicado, for opposing Trofim Lysenko, Stalin's chief geneticist and proponent of genetic pseudoscience. The seed bank therefore finds itself under close watch and political scrutiny. Based on a true story, this play examines science and scientists under incredible political and physical pressure.

The play is written by Mark Eckard (The Nevsky Wall), directed by Joshua Wolf Coleman (Grey’s Anatomy), and stars Caltech students, alum, and Caltech/JPL scientists Peter Basch, Ben Cassese, Carol Elaine, Lydia Kivrak, Amit Lakhanpal, Stephen Kellogg, and Teagan Wall.

In the midst of mass hunger in Russia, biologist Nikolai Vavilov “scoured the world for crop specimens that might grow in the harsh Russian climate or provide genetic material to make existing plants hardier,” Eckard explains. Yet he ran up against the pseudo science of Marxist Trofim Lysenko, who was embraced by the Soviet propaganda machine. Eckard says, “We see the same conflict today over the question of climate change. Ideologues persist in their denial in the face of overwhelming evidence, delaying the crucial action needed to prevent catastrophe. Men like Lysenko, and politicians like Stalin who support them, live in a world where facts are irrelevant and anyone who dares disagree is labelled an elitist or an enemy of progress.”

After the March for Science in Pasadena, the Caltech Earth Day event begins in the lobby of the theater at 6:00pm with a lobby display and conversation with the playwright titled “Science Under Siege: The Politics of Seed Banking and War.” With food trucks and free specialty coffees from Rose City Coffee!

The staged reading is at 7:00pm, followed by a dynamic post-show discussion with the playwright, director, and plant physiologist and cryobiologist Dr. Raquel Folgado in a discussion about seed conservation and genebanking in a time of war.

For further information on Vavilov’s Garden or for directions to the theater, go to or call the Caltech ticket office at 626-395-4652 and press 4 for a live operator. This Earth Day event is presented by Theater Arts Caltech.

The performance of Vavilov’s Garden is the first show for the 2017 MACH 33: The Festival of New Science-Driven Plays at Caltech, presented by Theater Arts Caltech under the direction of Brian Brophy. Staged readings of two other science-based plays are featured in the festival. For more information about Theater Arts Caltech, go to