Posts Tagged ‘Mike Daisey’

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

May 3, 2013

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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Review – The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs – Waterloo East Theatre

February 13, 2013

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.)