Opening Nights: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the Apple Store this weekend to score a MacBook Air, assorted cables, and an armband for my new iPod with more storage than the one I already own containing my top 10,000 "must-have" songs. I saw raconteur/monologist Mike Daisey explain how I was contributing to the exploitation and mutilation of thousands of Chinese who made these shiny objets d'art. The next day, I felt crappy about my purchase but plunked down the plastic just the same. Daisey specializes in biting the hands that have fed him—Amazon.com, where he once worked here in Seattle; the American theater, which has provided him a respected livelihood; and even the New York transit system, which regularly deposits his XXL keister mere blocks from his destinations. This time, The Agony aims to do for Jobs and Apple what Al Gore did for the SUV in An Inconvenient Truth. It does that and more. This is Daisey at the top of his volcanic form—indignant, irate, and harder to ignore than the weather. Such is his level of moral outrage in the show that you pray there's an EMT standing ready with a defibrillator—in case he bursts a blood vessel during one of his tirades. What makes Daisey better than 90 percent of his storytelling contemporaries is that he's always telling more than one story at once. He starts The Agony at a low, biographical rumble, admitting he was—and still is— "an Apple fanboy" obsessed with each new gadget from Cupertino. Running concurrently is the tale of Jobs' rise to prominence, dismissal, and return to Apple. Third is Daisey's clandestine visit to the factories of Shenzhen, China, where these little tech miracles are assembled under horrific conditions by workers barely on puberty's cusp. When their wills and bodies are broken on Jobs' wheel of progress, they're tossed aside with less concern than you'd give a white first-generation iPhone. It's a cascade of information, delivered with consummate mastery by Daisey, who's somehow both seated throughout and a dervish—equal parts Chris Farley and Michael Moore. Directed by his wife, Jean-Michele Gregory, Daisey sits at a table illuminated by a digital light grid behind him (designed by Seth Reiser) that underscores his points and assists in transitions. Daisey's frank goal is not to simply demystify Jobs and puncture the "we know better" dictates of Apple, but to shake us consumers awake to the consequences of our insatiable appetite for newer, smaller, and faster gadgets. The Agony is just as powerful and effective as intended. And before making my Apple Store purchases on Saturday, I did hesitate—just long enough to wonder at all the pain in the package I was about to unwrap with delight.

 
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