Review – American Utopias – Mike Daisey at the Seattle Repertory Theater

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After just having seen Daisey’s Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs in London, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to see his fresh, new stuff performed by Mr Daisey himself. Agony wasn’t really hitting my sweet spot as performed by a gorgeous English actor; even with the right props, he couldn’t capture the nerdish enthusiasm Daisey radiated. I longed to see the man in person, and when I got to Seattle on Tuesday I discovered my ship had come in. Sadly my travel schedule means I won’t be around for Fucking Fucking Ayn Rand, but I was able to catch American Utopias on its opening night at the Seattle Rep.

On the face of it, American Utopias seems to be about three places/events: Burning Man, Occupy (Wall Street), and Disney World. But it’s not about how these places are utopias: they are tied together by being intentional communities. Daisey, however, links them together as a monologuist will, by talking about dreams, oboes, family, “mise-en-scene,” and the other seemingly random shit that bubbles through his brain, assisted by cue sheets, a glass of water, and a clearly soaked hanky to wipe off the perennial Daisey sheen. He clued us in to his style, which is apparently to riff off of the notes; this allows him to get expansive, which unfortunately worked against the evening as it went to 2 1/2 hours (instead of the promised two) and left all three of us agreeing it was in dire need of a trim.

Best of the three was the Burning Man stuff. Daisey didn’t much bother with creating a narrative around his experience there, but managed to explain a lot of what being there is like (and why it is so hard for people to talk about it) in a way that brought a little magic to the evening. Giant pink cubes rolling across the desert? A metal giraffe that breaths jelly beans into your hand? Daisey propounded that Burning Man’s takeaway is that life is evanescent and will all “go up in smoke” at some point. This seemed belabored (the Japanese do it much better) but I’ll buy that Burning Man is an environment where people are forced to live in the moment, to their joy. This does not necessarily lead to people being able to talk about it very well afterwards, but while you’re doing it (like being in a dream), the effect is quite wonderful. I still have no desire to spend a week sweating in a dry and filthy dust bowl, but I did feel like the flavor had been captured remarkably well.

But floppy as a middle aged man’s erection (he mentions this phenomenon rather a lot during the show, so don’t go thinking this is family friendly) were the slices about the Occupy movement. Daisey’s connection is that he went to a fundraiser for Occupy – where he met an actual person who was participating in the protest – and, a year later, Daisey actually visited the site. He also had a rant on the radio the day after the evacuation where he rambled on about Bloomberg. But the connection was tenuous, and, even as I write about it, I’m having a hard time figuring out why he included it, unless it was because three is a magic number and Occupy would make his performance more politically topical. The tie-in to grabbing opportunities when they presented themselves was pretty unconvincing, as I’m not sure what Daisey would have actually done if he’d gone to the park where Occupy was happening. He didn’t go, it’s not his bag, so what?

Overall, though, this was a good show, comedy for the left, with lots of pop-culture and geek-culture references to make us feel “in.” Trim about 45 minutes out of it, tell the bozos to not sit in the balcony and distract him, and you’d have a really excellent evening. And Mike: PLEASE STOP SNIFFING YOUR SWEAT SOAKED HANKY it was freaking me out.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 2nd, 2013.)

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