There has been much press about Mike Daisey’s one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” down at The Public Theater on Lafayette Street in the Village. Much of it is good (a rave in The NY Times, and a three-week extension); bad (a rather poisonous, anonymous blurb in The New Yorker); and unwanted (Daisey has received both hate mail and death threats, apparently for his unwillingness to participate in the post-mortem deification of Steve Jobs).
But the anonymous blurb in The New Yorker interests me most, not because the writer was too much of a coward to sign his or her name to the objection, but because of the objection in question: that Daisey’s show is not theater, but a lecture, and should be billed as such. It was also “suggested” that Daisey discard his notes and step out from behind his desk.
Going in, I wondered: if the Daisey show is a lecture and not theater, does it matter?
The lights come up on Daisey, and he describes himself as a “professional blunderer” because that makes his life more interesting, and, it must be said, yields great material (similar to the late monologist Spalding Gray). Soon, it becomes clear that in addition to being a blunderer, Daisey is also a gifted storyteller.
Physically, he is a large, fleshy man, wearing a rumpled black shirt un-tucked, navy chinos, black shoes. Rather unimpressive, until he opens his mouth. He has an expressive, theatrical voice and knows how to use it: booming and alternately quiet, to sharpen his points. He is animated, fascinating, profane, and hilarious. He directly engages the audience. An obsessive, he knows his subject matter intimately.
Sweating profusely, he sits behind that desk, and has a cloth he blots his face with. The small theater he performed in was extremely cold. The man was moving, though he did not rise from the desk. Did I need Daisey to jump up and walk around for the sake of being more theatrical? No, because “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” is not a musical.
Daisey says he is a “dedicated amateur “of technology, a geek who was an “Apple worshipper.” He also worshipped Steve Jobs. “To be in love with Apple is to be in love with heartbreak. Apple breaks your heart.”
Daisey takes us through the American aphrodisiac of acquisition, and Apple as a religion. He charts the evolution of Steve Jobs, saying, “Visionary, plus asshole, equals Steve Jobs. You can’t have one without the other.”
And all was well with Daisey and Apple, until he read online that someone had bought a cellphone with photos already downloaded of a factory in China. So Daisey found out where it was and went there, to Foxconn in Shenzhen, with a translator, and talked with some of the 430,000 workers. Some were 12, 13, 14, years old. Shifts were at least 12 hours long. Everything was made by hand, until the hands no longer worked, and the employee was let go. While he was there, a worker died after a 34-hour shift, which was not uncommon, particularly when there was a new product coming out. Because there had been a spate of suicides, nets had been erected at the top of the factory, around the roof. That was the company’s solution to that problem.
Daisey then disguised himself as a businessman who wanted to buy anything that would get him inside the factories, and did. He spoke to labor union organizers, younger than college age, about the conditions of the workers. A worker came in whose hand had been caught in a metal press and he had received no medical attention; the hand had closed into a claw. The man had then been fired, but did have another job at a woodworking plant, better hours, only 70 a week. He had made ipads, and Daisey reached into his bag, pulled his out and the man’s eyes widened. He had never seen one turned on before, this device that had taken his hand. “ ‘It’s like magic,’ he said.
Daisey believes that Apple and Steve Jobs had to know about the conditions at the factory and it is hard to disagree with him. Jobs, Daisey maintains, saw and knew and chose to not see. Chose to do nothing, when it would have been so easy to do something, and not very expensive to change.
We the consumers created a monster that we continue to feed. Daisey shines a light on this monster, opens the door, and asks us to walk through it. He asks his audience to see, to be disillusioned as he was, because then and only then can things change.
“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” is emphatically not a lecture. It is theater. If you don’t like thinking, this is not the show for you. I believe “Mary Poppins” is still playing somewhere uptown. What Daisey delivers is a complete, moving theatrical experience.
Does it matter? Yes, it really does.
Lisa Del Rosso NYC 2011
Mike Daiseys’ Public Panel Report
21 October 2011 – Mary Folliet, NYC
In conjunction with Mike Daisey’s remarkable one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” currently at The Public Theater, on 21 October 2011 he participated in a Public Forum discussion with Robert Krulwich and Dan Lyons, two prominent & experienced New York media (tv & print) players. Entitled “The Legacy of Steve Jobs: Reckoning with our Technological Future,” introduced with enthusiasm by Artistic Director Oskar Eustis & moderated nicely by Jeremy McCarter, this conversation with a stimulating Q&A conclusion afforded another opportunity (I’d seen Daisey a few years ago at The Strand Book Shop on a panel about “The Art of the Memoir”) for Mr Daisey to demonstrate that his talent is not just solo performance art; he knows how to play well with others & win.
When he talks about “shaping your life into art,” you sit up a little straighter. Daisey’s a big, resilient man full of grace under pressure. Hemingway called that heroic & Hem was right.