The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs By Mike Daisey Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory; At Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company to April 17 Mike Daisey's thought-provoking Apple rant

iOpener: Mike Daisey’s latest monologue is a thought-provoking Apple rant.

When Mike Daisey barreled into town last year with The Last Cargo Cult, his amusingly eloquent rant on the religion of materialism, he was surrounded by mountains of crates and boxes. For The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, his entertainingly caustic rant on the Cult of Mac, the stage is cleaner—a glass table and aluminum chair backed by a pristine skeletal square outlined in L.E.D. lights—sort of an iStage, circa...oh, about 2003, before everything Apple got slenderized.

There’s a lot of Daisey’s prose, but it’s also lean and spare. When he speaks of the marketing savvy with which Jobs makes us “need things we didn’t even know we want,” or the planned obsolescence and constant upgrades that mean that “to be in love with Apple is a little like being in love with heartbreak itself,” he’s reducing to punchline haikus that we’ve already intuited. And when he takes us to places we’ve not traveled in our minds—the cities where our iPads and iPods are made, where “people are parts in a machine making machines for us,” he’s no less evocative. What more needs saying after he’s noted that a factory floor is “a Stalinist wet dream,” or that a Chinese manufacturing city “looks like Blade Runner threw up on itself”?

Daisey is not preaching that we should give up our iGizmos. He’s an Apple fanboy himself, who goes all geeky over laptops thin enough to slice sandwiches and relaxes by taking his apart, cleaning it, and putting it back together. But he does want us to think about how these exquisite toys are made; how at a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen just a few miles from Hong Kong, they are hand-crafted because in a Chinese “special economic zone” fingers are cheaper than machines. Delicate fingers. In some cases 12- and 13-year-old fingers. He’s sure of that because in his first couple of hours standing in front of the Foxconn plant where more than half of all the world’s electronics are made, he talked with some of the kids those delicate fingers are attached to.

If it was so easy for him to do that—a loud American lug in a loud Hawaiian shirt—how hard could it be, he wonders, for the corporate types for whom they’re working? “Do you really think that Apple doesn’t know?” he asks.

Daisey’s on a crusade, and it’s one with which I suspect most audience members will be philosophically inclined to agree. I went in prepared to be appalled by stories of child labor and 32-hour work shifts, and I was. (For the record, I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro, and I’ll edit it on an iPad.) When he moved from storytelling about iGadgets to truthtelling about their iMakers, I was with him. His tales qualify as iOpening, even if a number of them might as easily be about Nike shoes or any number of other outsourced luxuries Americans take for granted.

He lost me only in the last five minutes, which feel like wishful thinking. After a ferociously entertaining, often harrowing narrative, he details how he’s encased his message in humor so it will get past the firewalls in our minds. Having infected the audience, Daisey declares his message will now go viral.

Having seen what he’s seen, he no doubt needs to believe that, but Daisey is a professional skeptic—and after all that’s gone before, it sounds naïve. Although I’m a professional skeptic, too, I hope he’s right. His cause sure is.

Our Readers Say

The show is brilliant (as usual) and very funny along with thought provoking. In terms of inventiveness, this piece is less so than the other 3 monologues seen at Woolly. Perhaps that is because the commentary on the cult of Apple is more predictable, and the commentary on the atrocities of Chinese factory labor not unknown. My favorite is still "If You See Something, Say Something." But just slightly less inventive Daisey is still Daisey. I will see anything he does. He's just that good.
The show is informative and awe inspiring if you live like a ostrich; that is with your head in the ground. The information presented by Daisey's monologue is spoon fed to us the audience in a way that could be entertaining had he not come off as so pompous and in love with the sound of his own voice. I for one was disappointed and expected much more from his monologue after hearing people rave about his creativity and storytelling abilities. I was left yawning and could almost hear the clock tick by slowly as the droning sound that was lulling me to sleep was Daisey's voice.
I have no idea what this article reviewer was talking about. I hated it an regret spending money on this show. I could've gotten the same information for free on NPR.
A recent episode of This American Life on PRI features a live reading from Mike Daisey. Despite some interesting work and thought provoking conclusions, he is utterly unbearable. The entirety of his speech seemed like unabashed self congratulation. Pompous doesn't even touch how dislikeable this man seems to be. Talking slowly and forcefully about every brilliant idea he has and every uncompromising obstacle he overcomes, Mr Daisey drowns any possible credibility. When people are so transparently self promoting, it inevitably makes me doubt their integrity. I do not mean to imply that he has falsified anything he wrote, but that language and tenor of his work implies a lack of intellectual honesty.
Mike Daisey, the inexplicable rising "theater star" oft-quoted for his "observations" about corporate malfeasances, has just been outed by PBS' "This American Life" as a liar. His monologue rant against Apple, "The Agony & Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," has been revealed to be filled with BS, stuff he made-up.

Mike Daisy was an actor desperate for attention even when he foisted his first "monologues" in Seattle at the Open Circle Theater. Maudlin stories about his fat, his family and his pathetic "romantic" life weren't filling enough seats, and lardy, sweaty, shrill actors have a fat chance making a living via traditional avenues, playing fictive characters in "plays" or "movies." His solution was clever--pick a hot topic--and use it to attract attention to his "work." First time out was to pick on Amazon.

By choosing to fill his "theater" work with stories about brands, he could co-opt the brand's fame--a theater marketer's dream, replete with almost self-writing press releases that themselves create news by masquerading as announcements of heroic, out-of-the-box "investigations" by an otherwise unremarkable, grossly obese "actor."

Daisey could have written a "theatre" monologue about an actor so morbidly obese that he had no prospects in film, TV or theater, but his "character" would be then a loser, no hero, in a tale of failure. He HAD to find a way to cast himself as a dashing leading man, despite the fat, sweat and chicken voice, and faking himself as a brave, investigative "truth" finder was a stroke of genius--who might begrudge him this little fantasy, especially since he'd only besmirch corporate brands? He knew his audience: theatre fans, ie a dependable smattering of liberal, knee-jerk gossips already suspicious of corporations, Israel, capitalists, etc. By naming his fictive leading man "Mike Daisey" and by not qualifying his work as "fiction" (and that is the word and definition you'll find he avoids in all his tremulous replies to PBS's Ira Glass, for by larding his now-exposed lying as "theater" he hopes to squeak by--all theater is assumed to be "fiction," no? No? Were he to sub-title his work, for example, in this way: "Steve Jobs - a fiction" he might deflate his marketing angle--would folks come?!--but most importantly, he would destroy his personal illusion whereby) he creates a grand fantasy in which his fictional hero "Mike Daisey" saves not only poor, abused children and the crippled, he saves "us," the world, and he gets to privately thumb his nose at us as well?

Why would he do that? Because I imagine he assumes most of us look at him and without the heroics, just see a fat, strident man. "You assumed I am just a smug, grossly sweating, obese, actor doomed to minor character roles,  horribly undisciplined as evidenced by my apparent inability to respect a meal or exercise plan and thus in complete betrayal of my actors' "craft" (wherein "actors" treat their bodies as "instruments" and thus physically train and regiment toward accomplishing "range" with their instruments), but you are mistaken--I am a hero who toils in the darkness to find "truth." You have misjudged my sweat and fat, especially the sweat, as it spills from the heroic effort to bring you truth." That's Daisey's subtext, an illusion designed for himself first--if we accept that, the rest is...gravy.

Tag it as fiction, not only is the actor revealed, an unattractive, limited craftsman fated to be typecast as a "glutton" in films like "7even," so is his "theater," an odd animal believed by Daisey to exist outside the comprehension of those who respect honesty, revealed to be just another self-aggrandizing screed, a charlatan's circus act with little aspect of "art" after-all.
I can't understand how his sensationalism didn't draw more suspicion. Read my comment from January. The only reason I thought the story might be accurate was that TAL picked it up. I am very disappointed in them.

Leave a Comment

Note: HTML tags are not allowed in comments.
Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.