I like Mike Daisey. His one man show, “21 in Dog Years: Doing Time at Amazon.com” was the perfect play at the perfect time in my life, when I’d been doing the grind at a bunch of dot-bombs who lured me in with the promise of getting rich off of stock options and then proceeded to work me to the bone with 80 hour weeks of repetitive labor and no attention paid to career growth or personal development. I was pleased to see that as he and I and Seattle all parted ways, he stayed in the business of being a tech topical monologuer, sort of a cross between Michael Moore and Spalding Grey; but it was a bit of a shock that the next big news I heard was him at the center of a scandal caused by his play The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. I didn’t read about it much at the time, but was mostly just hoping that his career would survive; and it looks like it has, because it’s a year later, and his retooled version of the play is being presented at the Waterloo East Theater in London. Hurray! I could see for myself how his art had evolved over the years, but with the clear eyes of “this is a play” and not “this is a piece of reportage.”
What’s interesting, seeing this play, is the kerfluffle over to what extent what was described actually happened. Nobody disputes that FoxConn is a shit place to work and is unconcerned with the lives and health of its workers; I haven’t heard people expressing outrage that Daisey’s piece makes clear that our lovely little technological, first world society is built on the backs of abused workers. Daisey’s description of Steve Job’s evolution as a brand maker and megalomaniac is compelling as well, and shocked me most by revealing that once upon a time Apple encouraged people to hack its product – a harsh comparison with the “walled garden” approach today (including weeding out any “plants” determined to be out of date). It’s all so much more charming, though, because its filter is through the lens of a geek boy who was horrified to discover the truths about what sacrifices have been made to enable us to enjoy the little toys that make our lives so fun. And, for Daisey, it appears that the moment of horrified shock is, “Apple, you let us down.” How can you enjoy items of pure beauty with contaminated souls?
The show only runs 80 minutes and lacks a bit, I think, for not being told by a sweaty, overweight nerd; Edward Fromson is just a gorgeous man and, while I can certainly imagine him being an Apple fan, he seems like someone who’s never had to struggle with being popular. That said, the show was smooth and pulled you in, and somehow made backstage corporate shenanigans interesting. It also gave me an insight into a certain fandom I’ve never been a part of, the kind of people who, just from watching a newscast (and who WOULD be watching a corporate announcement in the first place), could be convinced to buy something just because it was really, really pretty. Will these people lose their devotion to the cause from this expose? I think not. But as a document of a subculture, a company, and the workings of today’s technological society, this play is still very relevant and engaging. And, hey, tickets were ony £12; I’d say it’s well worth the investment of both money and time.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Sunday, February 10th, 2012. It continues through February 23rd.)