Review/Preview: “American Utopias” and “Fucking Fucking Fucking Ayn Rand” written and performed by Mike Daisey. Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory. Presented by Seattle Repertory Theatre. “American Utopias” ran May 1-4, 2013. “Fucking….Ayn Rand” runs May 8-11, 2013.
Former Seattle resident and wage jockey for Amazon.com, Mike Daisey became a literary/theatrical name to be reckoned with after the 2001 debut of his monologue “21 Dog Years” which hilariously detailed his time working for Amazon in its earliest days. Mr. Daisey has gone on to create and perform another 20 or so monologues at theaters all over the world, under the direction of his wife Jean-Michele Gregory, including Monopoly!, The Great Cargo Cult, and How Theater Failed America. Many of Mr. Daisey’s works examine technology, the media, and the fascinating, complex lives of the people and corporations who control both. A monologue originally created in 2010, The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs brought together many of Daisey’s favorite themes as he examined the world’s fascination with Apple and its genius founder Steve Jobs, and Apple’s not so appealing track record on how it conducts business and treats the Chinese workers who make their products. The huge success of that show, especially after portions appeared on NPR’s This American Life seemed to mark a high water mark of Mr. Daisey’s career, but allegations that incidents portrayed in the piece were exaggerated or possibly even fictionalized, dealt the storyteller’s reputation a crippling blow. The offending segments have been removed from “Agony/Ecstasy” and Mr. Daisey now performs a version he’s entitled “Version 2.0”.
But, Mike Daisey isn’t in town at Seattle Repertory Theater, his quasi theatrical home base in the city, to perform any variation of “Agony/Ecstasy”, which he performed at the Rep to great acclaim in 2011. Instead, the performer is debuting two new pieces for Seattle, “American Utopias” which debuted last Wednesday, May 1st for a 4 day run, and “Fucking, Fucking, Fucking Ayn Rand” which debuts tomorrow, Wednesday, May 8th for another 4 days of performances.
“American Utopias” examines three different examples of just that, American Utopias, or as Mr. Daisey describes them, “Dreams” and weaves the three stories into an examination on how those Utopias: Burning Man, Disney World and Zuccotti Park, the site of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in the fall of 2011, are reflections on how we react and interact with public spaces and the reasons why these places are so important. Two of those places, the annual Burning Man festival in the Nevadan desert, and Disney World are actual places Daisey visited, but his reflections on Zuccotti Park are bittersweet; he supported the demonstrations but didn’t physically visit the site before the live-in protest was crushed on November 15, 2011. So, it’s not surprising that the Burning Man and Disney tales are far lighter and funnier than the thread involving Zuccotti; Mr. Daisey’s actual participation in the former two “Utopias” give them an intimacy lacking in the latter.
This is also a far kinder and gentler Mike Daisey monologue than any I have ever encountered; the passion and razor sharp indictments inherent in “Agony/Ecstasy” or “Cargo Cult” are missing from “American Utopias” and as Daisy compares utopias to dreams and remarks that most dreams are impossible to describe, many of the tales he tells don’t have a pay-off; they amuse, but they never seem very focused. It’s a genial session of storytelling and the stories of Mr. Daisey and his wife/collaborator Jean Michele Gregory both enduring the horrors and delights of Burning Man and Disney World were crowd pleasing but not especially profound. And, while the Walt Disney Corporation would seem to be an ideal target for Daisey’s sharp wit, the House of the Mouse barely gets a slap on the wrist. (Though, we’re keen to hear Mr. Daisey’s views on the just announced news that Disney is trying to trademark the Mexican holiday, “Dia de los Muertos”…)
Despite its long running time (2 and a half hours without intermission), Mr. Daisey’s masterful skills as raconteur, comedian and political/social commentator kept the show rolling along and vibrantly interesting, despite the lack of bite in the material. It’s a dreamy night of Mike Daisey and whether it’s due to the bruising controversy over “Agony/Ecstasy” or just an atypical excursion into lighter fare, it would have to be classified as “Mike Daisey Lite”…the same length, but half the potency.
I’m having higher hopes for the Wednesday debut of his latest piece, “Fucking Fucking Fucking Ayn Rand” for the simple reason that I share that sentiment and I’ve stated that exact same line many times in my lifetime, or, simply put: “Ayn Rand is AWFUL!!” Here’s the blurb from Seattle Rep on all that “fucking”:
Running May 8-11, F***ing F***ing F***ing Ayn Rand is an evening dedicated to that most frustrating and difficult woman in our literary and philosophical canon, Ayn Rand. Reviled by millions for her infantile philosophies and turgid prose, she is simultaneously worshipped by millions more for her ideological purity and dedication to the self at all costs. Torrid rape sex, terrifyingly bad movies, and the underpinnings of the modern American financial system all play a role in how Ayn Rand became the most powerful woman in the American mythos today.
It’s also a brisk ninety minutes without intermission; my old butt thanks you, Mr. Daisey. A few tickets are still available at the Rep’s website. “Ayn Rand” plays nightly at 7:30pm in the Leo K. Theater at Seattle Rep from May 8-11.