Written and Performed by Mike Daisey
Directed by Jean-Michelle Gregory
Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street

Reviewed by David Spencer

It would seem, at last, that Mike Daisey has inherited the mantle of America’s premier “thematic monologist” from the late Spaulding Grey. In not much more than half a decade, the works with which he has toured and (perhaps most impactfully) paused at the Public Theatre to deliver, have turned him into an icon of the art; and it’s somehow fitting that in his latest “essay,” he turns his attentions to another icon, the late Apple innovator, in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. At first, Mr, Daisey offers sharply observed (and sharply funny) social commentary about how Americans, and he and particular, love their electronic gadgets, which own their owners. There is laughter of rueful self-recognition as Daisey tells his own tales of each new generation of Apple technology involving him in a constant game of catch-up, not merely because each new device is (potentially) so cool, but because each new operating system eventually forces you to adjust. Jobs had that kind of power.

               But it is also Daisey’s contention that Jobs also had the power, that Apple still has the power, to drastically affect things in the Foxconn factory, in the industrial Chinese city of Shenzen, where the devices are made by hand; and where the hands making them are exploited workers, functioning under appalling conditions, with no legal or union protections. Conditions that Daisey learned about from interviews he conducted with workers, many as young as 16, and witnessed himself on site, during a three-week visit to the city. Perhaps most sobering is Daisey’s closing contention that nothing he has revealed has really come as a surprise to his audience; that all he’s actually done is taken something out of the shadows and made us look at it in a bright light. This, he asserts, is his version of a computer-type “virus”; now that it’s introduced into the system, it’s something we must begin to deal with.

               Whether or not Mr. Daisey can generate enough audience concern for those of us “in the dark” (as he says) to make our feelings known to Apple in force and constructively enough to make a difference is impossible to know. But it’s worth noting that the show has already gotten Apple’s attention. And it’s worthy of yours as well.

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