Monologuist Mike Daisey takes a bite out of Apple in his new ‘Steve Jobs’ show

Mike Daisey in 'The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs' — Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne

Mike Daisey has turned his razor-sharp monologue skills on many important topics over the years. Whether religion, politics or theater itself, the man sits down and usually tells the audience an engaging tale riddled with comedic touches, personal anecdotes and somber moments. He talks, and it’s impossible not to listen.

His latest piece is The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a pull-no-punches wake-up call to anyone who owns an Apple product. The two-hour performance, where Daisey sits behind a table, with only some notes and a glass of water in front of him, is like a fireside chat from hell. Almost immediately, the monologuist jumps right into the story with his strong, almost booming voice. There’s probably no other performer so in command of his vocal instrument (and I’m including the headlining singers on Broadway). He rolls around his consonants and vowels so effortlessly that even if one disagrees with him, it’s hard to disagree with him.

The monologue starts off in a very deceptive manner. We’re led to believe that Daisey is an Apple cheerleader, a practitioner in the religion of Steve Jobs. He talks lovingly about his upbringing and his first experiences with a computer. A self-avowed techie, the performer paints a sepia-toned image of bygone machines and outdated modems.

It’s only after Apple’s products enter the picture that the clouds turn decidedly grey. We learn the highlights of Jobs’s life (hippie with an unusually competitive edge) and how Apple moved toward usability and reinvention of its product portfolio. When Daisey makes a trip to China and the factories that allegedly manufacture our iPhones, iPads and iPods, the monologue switches from a plump, perfectly ripened apple to a rotten fruit overtaken by worms.

Mike Daisey — Photo courtesy of Stan Barouh

Daisey, acting as a “businessman” from the United States, interviewed several workers who reportedly toiled for hours on Apple products. Their working conditions, he tells us, were painstakingly difficult. He reports that some of the workers were extremely young and others had their hands contorted.

The monologuist recites these worrying statements in a much calmer tone compared to his earlier enthusiasm. We watch him slowly realize the enormity of the situation. We watch him lose faith in his technological religion. We watch him reconsider all the things we take for granted.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is activist theater at its most powerful. It leaves audience members with an uncomfortable challenge: How can we ever look at these devices in the same way again? How can we talk, text and type without second thoughts about how these products are made?

I still checked my e-mails and messages on my iPhone after watching the performance, but the device’s backlight didn’t provide as much warmth as it used to.

Daisey’s shotgun-to-the-head approach meanders a bit in the beginning, and it takes a little too long for him to find a thesis. But when he does, it overhauls our soul and shakes us to our apple core.

Director Jean-Michele Gregory, a frequent Daisey collaborator, keeps the evening focused on the performer and his words. The only theatricality comes from a background of rectangular lights that accentuate some of the performer’s remarks. It’s a no-frills set that leaves nothing but Daisey’s story and the power of self-realization.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

  • Created and performed by Mike Daisey

  • Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory

  • Running time: 120 minutes

  • Currently playing at the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette St. in New York City. Performances continue until March 18. Tickets cost $75-$85. Click here for more information.

  • Rating: ★★★½

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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