There’s no accusing monologist Mike Daisey of not understanding his targets in his latest piece, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, now on stage at Seattle Repertory Theatre through May 22. Daisey’s precision aim locks onto the American thirst for new technology and the cult of Apple and Jobs himself, and Daisey—a self-proclaimed tech geek with a reverence for Apple products—tears down the idols in a two-hour performance that is as provocative as it is entertaining. Maybe monologist sounds too staid; how about muckraking stand-up comic?
With a chicly minimalistic stage setup—a glass-topped table in front of a simple grid of LED lights—one almost expected Jobs himself to stride onstage in a black turtleneck to announce the next iPhone. That’s not exactly what happens.
Daisey simply takes the stage, sits down in a chair behind the table, and erases any notion that oral storytelling is a lost art form. After establishing his geek credentials early on, he launches into a two-pronged story about Apple. One side traces the evolution of the company, from its humble beginnings to its current status as tech superpower, supported with plenty of well-known assertions about the mercurial Jobs. Daisey doesn’t hesitate to call him a genius; he also doesn’t hesitate to call him an asshole.
The other component of the interweaved storylines is more satisfying—it’s based on Daisey’s own gonzo journalistic discoveries rather than somewhat hidebound anecdotal information—and much more sobering. Daisey tells of his visit to Shenzhen, China’s factory district, and specifically to Foxconn, a behemoth with hundreds of thousands of factory workers making iPhones, iPods, and iPads along with products from HP, Nokia, Sony, and many other electronics companies.
Questionable Chinese labor practices are kind of common knowledge and even Foxconn itself has been subject to its share of controversy, so it’s not as if Daisey is ripping the lid off of anything.
Still, it’s likely that his vivid recounting of conversations with factory workers and their mistreatment (unpaid overtime, 70+ hour work weeks, nonexistent medical care for on-the-job injuries, rampant child labor abuse) will make most audience members confront the realities in a new, more actively uncomfortable way. As Daisey observes, how many of us have ever thought about the pairs of hands that assembled our devices before they ever made their way to us?