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A CurtainUp Review
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

"I love technology. I love technology that comes from Apple the most."— Mike Daisey as he begins in his monologue admitting that except for an occasional lapse, he has been part of the faithful who pray "in the house of Jobs.'
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
Mike Daisey in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs had no compunction about destroying one Apple box to build a new box that, necessary or not, immediately became a must-have for his millions of acolytes. Mike Daisey has admittedly capitulated to Job's incredible ability a "to make people want things they didn't know they needed." However, the acclaimed raconteur's theatrical lectures are firmly planted in the if it ain't broke don't fix it modus operandi — a fusion of socially conscious stand-up comedy with his observations enlivened and authenticated by his personal adventures.

Since his 2002 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @Amazon.Com, Daisey has turned his stand-up monologues into a sit-down routine and added a few props: a chair, a table to hold a glass of water that he never drinks from, and pages of notes that he never reads from. He still wears a simple black shirt and black pants, size extra large. To match that "costume" he also keeps a black handkerchief on the table which, unlike the other props, is much needed and used since Daisey sweats profusely — not just because he's a big guy but because he gets pretty wound up in his stories and observations.

As Daisey has taken his muckraking but humorous monologues all over the world, they invariably land at his New York home, the Public Theater. Unlike his first gig at Joe's Pub, the just opened New York premiere of The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is at the Public's spacious Martinson Theater, where the familiar basic set-up is spiffed up with a slickly lit high-tech backdrop by Seth Reiser and as usual expertly directed by his wife Jean-Michele Gregory.

Since the New York opening comes on the heels of Steve Jobs' death this could easily be viewed as an unintended eulogy. But Daisey, like Jobs, is not given to false sentimentality. His travels to Shenzhen, China left him appalled about the inhumane conditions at the factories where the gadgets in his as well as other Apple users' pockets are made. He gained access to the the giant Foxconn Technology Group's plant that supplies Apple by posing as a business man, which he says he's delighted NOT to be. With the aid of an interpreter he interviewed employees, many of whom were just 12 or 13 years old and working under shocking conditions

Daisey may not have thought much about how his i-Gadgets were made when he began using them but it's pretty obvious that he didn't just happen to take his trip to China. Like any well informed American, he had articles and books about China's questionable business tactics — especially headline making pieces about a string of suicides at Foxconn — to trigger his need to know more in order to do a fully rounded piece about Jobs's status as a world changing visionary. His wearing a Hawaiian shirt and using impromptu slips of paper instead of business card seems a bit of a gimmick to make his pretend business act funnier.

This theatrical revisit to the events that made the "house of Jobs" the temple at which millions, including himself, worshipped is certainly not your typical homage. Instead it's more like an account of a lover's coming to see his beloved without rose colored glasses.

Despite Daisey's disappointment that Jobs' ground-breaking innovations did not prevent him from compromising some of his original intentions and ideals, he retains his admiration for the elegance of the products and Jobs's comeback success after being ousted from his own company and replaced by a man who wore shoes to board meetings and looked good in a suit." As usual our raconteur also packs a fair quotient of laughs into his craftily organized presentation. However, I didn't hear all that much that I hadn't read about elsewhere; nor did I find myself laughing often enough to keep me from checking my watch well before the two hours were up, though there were plenty of guffaws throughout the theater. The detour about Power Point (a dig at Microsoft) was just one bit of business that could have tightened things up. That said, there's no quibbling with Mike Daisey's unflagging energy, genuine passion and awe-inspiring gift as a story teller.

The current production does conclude with a reference to Jobs' death, but in so doing Daisey does not push his flawed hero back onto his techno superhero pedestal, feeling that this would be counter to Jobs's own lack of sentimentality. Neither does he use his platform to suggest specific actions to address the issue of American enterprise outsourcing practices (Apple is far from the only offender).

According to a recent telephone interview with New YorkTimes reporter Catherine Rampell Daisey hasn't backed up his outrage by tossing out his beloved iPhone but has settled for not buying any new Apple products. ("If I throw them away, Ill just have to find another device made the same way in order to continue being in conversation with people Like right now were both talking over the telephone, the guts of which were probably made in Shenzhen"). He therefore simply urges all his acolytes, especially the Geeky geniuses working at Apple, to finish what he wasn't able to do — and continue to change the world but do so without allowing the worms of social injustice to eat into the Apple's wonderland-like delights. If Daisey's lecture-entertainment will open the door to thoughtful debates about how to deal with those human rights and economic welfare eating worms, it should get a standing ovation and continue to travel to other stages.

Now that his first subject, Jeff Beezos of Amazon, has become a mass-gadget producer, how long before Mike Daisey returns to revisit the amazing house of Amazon. While Beezos has never had Jobs's kind of love-smitten followers, his Kindles have kindled a revolution of sorts in the public's reading habits and the book business. Like the i-Pad and i-Phone, they're unlikely to be made in America.

Links to previous Mike Daisey monologues
If You See Something Say Something(2008)
The Last Cargo Cult(2009)
21 Dog Years: Doing Time @Amazon.Com (2002)

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
Created and performed by Mike Daisey
Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory
Scenery and lighting design by Seth Reiser
Stage Manager: Pamela Salling
Running Time: 2 hours, no intermission
Publics Martinson Theater 420 Lafayette Street
From 10/11/1`; opening 10/17/11; closing 11/13/11 extended to 12/04/11.
Tickets $75-$85; $40 members.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at October 15th press matinee
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