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A CurtainUp Review
If You See Something Say Something

If you raise an army and leave it standing, it will find something to do.—George Washington
Mike Daisey
Mike Daisey
Mike Daisey's latest monologue, If You See Something Say Something is, like most political riffs, geared to audiences who need little persuasion to second his disagreement with government policies. (By the way, I did't forget a comma in the title , but am using the Daisey specified unpunctuated title.) But much as the Joe's Pub audience may be part of the "amen" singing choir, Daisey has a way of joining his own personal history and current events that elevates his rants into beginning-middle-end theater pieces.

Well, sort of. The black t-shirt and pants are his wardrobe. A wooden table, a metal briefcase, some legal pad sheets of notes, periodically turned over but not read from and a never sipped from glass of water are what passes for theatrical props. And, oh, yes, some neatly folded black hankerchiefs that are used regularly to wipe sweat dampening Daisey's brow, cheeks and lips (he's a big man who's prone to sweat profusely even when not working himself up into a sweat about his latest subject.

21 Dog Years: Doing Time @Amazon.Com, with which Daisey burst onto the New York scene in 2002 and the only other of his monologues I've seen (review), basically fit the stand-up comedy genre with some serious undertones. If You See Something Say Something, again directed by his wife, Jean-Michele Gregory and approaching its overall subject through an autobiographical lens, is a more serious and intricate narrative in which the humor is more the seasoning than the main meal. It also interweaves its anecdotes and commentary on a much broader canvas. That canvas embraces the whole history of America's efforts to be strong and safe.

TIf You See Something. . . takes its title from the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority's cautionary slogan. It begins as a closeup of the Department of Homeland Security's topsy-like growth into a gargantuan bureaucracy ("the largest expansion of federal power in 60 years") and Daisey's attempts to read all 800 pages of the Patriot Act — his reading, as he puts it, taking him a lot further into that document than the Congress that passed it.

Debunking the ineffectiveness of security measures to which airline passengers have been subjected (like the removal of shoes and items containing liquids) leads to outrage at more excessive War on Terror preventatives that he feels have turned us into "a banana republic" that tortures and seeks out both real and imagined enemies and weapons. Given his own childhood fascination with the Atom Bomb, Daisey connects the post 9/11 War on Terror to the country's past history via a visit to the Trinity Site in New Mexico where the first atomic bomb was tested. He's not wrong when he claims that any average guy "using the magical powers of Google is able to wipe out just about every fear-based myth served to us by the government over the past seven years." Google search for "Trinity Atom Bomb test site" yields 105,000 entries to support Daisey's own average guy-ness in making this a destination. (According the Trinity web site, it's open to the public not once, but twice a year—clearly plenty of Mike Daiseys eager to have access).

The Trinity Site visit includes a stop at the Los Alamos Sales Company more commonly known as The Black Hole, whose owner resells junk picked up from the Los Alamos Lab site where he once worked. It's not only quite funny but Daisey's own souvenir purchase provides the show with an apt windup clincher. In between the New Mexico outing and that finale we get all manner of linked ruminations. One such observation is that the heroes of our past (including our founding fathers) would be regarded as today's terrorists. We also get some interesting, though much more than needed, details about Sam Cohen, who's credited with being the father of the neutron bomb and who ended up writing a memoir called Shame.

Daisey is well rehearsed so that he seems to works more or less extemporaneously and those legal pad pages are strictly a prop to establish a sort of between scenes pause that marks the move to another topic; thus, the show may vary quite a bit from performance to performance. For example, the press preview I attended last Thursday ran almost two hours which is a too long visit with this material. I would have been happier with the 90-minute performance seen by several colleagues on the following night.

If you're expecting Daisey to offer hope for a more upbeat scenario once the election is over, forget it. He sees little change, no matter who's elected — which also means that he'll still have plenty of fodder for another solo show. Judging from the packed house when I was there and the enthusiasm of the audience, his scripts and presentation insure that he will never have to go back to go to work at Amazon' againbr>
If You See Something Say Something
Created and performed by Mike Daisey
Directed byJean-Michele Gregory
Lighting: K. J. Hardy
Running Time: approx. 1 hour and 50 minutes without intermission
Joe's Pub, Public Theater 425 Lafayette Street. (212) 967-7555
From 10/15/08; opening 10/27/08; closing 11/30/08.
Tickets $40 - $60 Tuesday-Friday and Sunday; $40 - $70 Saturday evenings
$25 Student tickets and $20 Rush Tickets
Check re: food and drink minimums and performance schedules
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 10/23/08
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