Mike Daisey: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
Washington High School
Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland: First Love
BodyVox Dance Center
posted by: dirtybombpdx
How to reconcile the divergent worlds of Steve Jobs and Samuel Beckett in a single night of theater? It sounded like a good idea when I set out to see Mike Daisey’s The Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs then raced across town for Conor Lovett’s performance of Beckett’s First Love. Though there were bits and pieces in both that fleetingly held my interest, in retrospect, sipping on a martini in my backyard would have been preferable to either experience.
First up was Daisey’s Steve Jobs obsession. I’ve seen Daisy a few times now, and although I always laugh out loud at his big rubbery facial expressions and booming voice, I also always find myself irritated by his faux-profundity and lack of editorial zeal. Two hours is too long for material that, if you have any interest in the news of the world, will be far too familiar. The story of Jobs and Apple is not obscure. Other than using my computer for its most basic functionality, I have little interest in the world of computing, yet I still know the story of Steve Jobs and the impact of technology on our society (as I’m sure most people in the audience Saturday night did too). And while I couldn’t have named the city in China, Shenzhen, that produces 50 percent of the electronics the world uses, I was familiar with the scale of production there and had read of the suicides associated with the prison-like conditions of its massive factories. Daisey wants us to be shocked at this information and scolds us for consuming the product yet ignoring the conditions. How is this any different from any sweat-shop produced product that we Americans have been for consuming for 50 odd years now? Daisey even travels to China to interview the workers, yet all we really get from it is that he’s a big fat guy in a Hawaiian shirt who sticks out in a crowd, oh and that some of the workers are as young as 10 years old. Really? Shocking. Isn’t this the same story we’ve heard about Walmart and Nike and on and on going all the way back to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle? So what’s new? What little insight Daisey does give us isn’t terribly original, but his stand-up schtick is funny in the typical stand-up way: most of the laughs are generated, not by wit, but by Chris Farley extremes or tired expletives. Were it an hour-long, I might say it was entertaining, but at 2 hours, it’s a trial.
Next up was Conor Lovett of the Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland, in a theatrical interpretation of Samuel Beckett’s short story, First Love. I couldn’t wait to see this production. I love Beckett, but was unfamiliar with this piece. Walking into the BodyVox space and seeing the elegant, haunting set (a large rectangle of blue light and two up-ended wood benches, like spectral witnesses to the proceedings), I felt sure I was in for an amazing night of theater. Lovett walks onstage with no fanfare and begins. His wee frame is accentuated by his Duckie Brown suit and large sturdy shoes that make him appear even more elfin. His bald head glows in the light and his eyes dart furtively around the space. I hold my breath. He speaks – it’s halting and labored. He looks at us and smiles. What do you think? I’m not sure what to think. I wait. He is masterfully controlled. He smiles again. Why is he smiling? Another long pause. More halting, labored explication. I start to lose track of the story. His delivery is so premeditated I can’t tell if it’s a choice or an affectation. The audience is restless, people keep shifting in their seats. The theater is too warm. The woman in front of me has fallen asleep. I try to focus. It’s a bleak story without light and little humanity – none, actually. Lovett pulls one of the benches down, sits on it for a few seconds then stands it back on end – the only time the benches are touched (I liked that). The story isn’t inherently theatrical and was unpublished until 1971. Since Beckett is one of our most gifted and celebrated playwrights, you’d think if he’d intended this as a theater piece, he’d have said as much. Actually, I loved the script, and would have loved much more to sit and read it than to suffer through the tedious hour and a half I spent watching Lovett’s self-love fest. He’s obviously a talented guy and I’m sure when he first started performing this piece it was wonderful. But his current performance is so mannered and knowing that I can imagine it not altering one iota with or without an audience. There is nothing spontaneous or “live” about it. In fact, it seemed as though he was even a little pissed that we, the audience, weren’t all that taken with his “celebrated” performance. I never saw a character on stage, just an actor quite full of himself and completely unwilling to invite us in.