theater notes. mike daisey. (x2).
Last Friday I went to see Mike Daisey at the Seattle Rep for the second time in a week, after Wednesday's How Theater Failed America. I'd heard about The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs back when he was workshopping it at the Rep, maybe last year, and couldn't contain my excitement when I saw it in the line-up for this season. It had been a theater-packed month - Pinter Fortnightly at ACT, All I Ever Wanted at Theatre Puget Sound, O Lovely Glowworm by New Century Theater Company (at the Erickson Theatre), This and How Theater Failed America at Seattle Rep. I was exhausted; my mind was going in circles at a hundred miles per hour. But I had to see this.
I remember Mike Daisey's 21 Dog Years, the monologue about his years at Amazon at the end of the millennium. I was in my early 20's when he performed it at Intiman Theatre, some eight years ago. I went with my father, and laughed hysterically but as silently as possible (otherwise it would have been awkward). Later in the car, my dad asked what I'd thought. "I loved it," I said. "I don't think your mother would have enjoyed it," he said. She wouldn't have - it was laced with obscenities and cheap laughs, as subtle as the dynamite used to implode the Kingdome (which Amazon executives watched from their offices, high up on Beacon Hill, a recurring theme in this work). The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is a little different, although it is still brutally and unsubtly funny. It is a love story, the way How Theater Failed America is a love story.
This time I met up with my friend H. at the Rep. H. is an Apple fanboy. He and his wife have iPhones and MacBook Pros and iPads and no doubt a couple of iPods. He apologized for being so casually dressed but then this wasn't the usual theatre audience. It was packed with other Apple fanboys and computer geeks, all khakis and jeans and an ocean of fleece. I had not realized until that night that Mike Daisey himself is a computer geek, but we learned he is the kind of guy who takes apart his MacBook and cleans all the components and puts them back together. This is how he relaxes after a show. His family had one of the early Macintosh computers (a gift from a wealthy grandparent) and he'd stay up late into the night writing code (or whatever it is geeks did on computers back in the 80's. I got lost at this point in the narrative. I imagined it as something like the movie War Games).
Mike Daisey is a big guy, sitting like a bullfrog at a desk squarely in the middle of the stage. What I already know from experience is that he has an expressive face and graceful hands that flutter and swoop like birds to emphasize various points in his story. There is a stack of notes written on yellow-lined paper, and a glass of water. His voice fills the room. Daisey tells us about the early years of Macintosh computers, the evolution of Apple, and the megalomaniacal genius of Steve Jobs. His voice changes, though, when he dips into the reality of what it takes to produce a shiny new iPhone. As he sneaks his way into the Shenzhen factories that build Apple products the realization dawns that actual human beings are piecing these things together, bit by bit, by hand, moving in an assembly line as though they were machines and not people. They work for a pittance and live in cramped dorms and have no healthcare or union organization, the last of which is illegal. This is not news, though. This is what China is like. It could be any electronics-production factory, making products for any international brand.
It is not really so much The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, after all. It is the agony and the ecstasy of Mike Daisey, balancing a thirty-year love affair with Apple computers against the blood, as he puts it, of the Chinese people which he imagines welling up from the keyboard of a MacBook Pro. Against the tyranny of a company who says "here is this beautiful shiny new thing that you must have" with one hand and gives you a swift "FUCK YOU!" with the other. He gets this basic human emotion we all feel: our reckless need for things we know, deep down, that we don't actually need.