With The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, monologist Mike Daisey tackles Apple fanboyism and the untold sacrifice it requires. Daisey, a commanding performer, does this not as an outsider who turns his nose up to those who rush for the latest technology. As someone whose love for Apple wanders into obsession, he’s knee-deep in the company’s latest combination of computing power and intuitive industrial design. His tone changes constantly yet never falters; broad humor and unsettling insight almost occupy the same breath. By its end, Daisey announces how he’s changed the audience’s outlook and I doubt anyone would disagree with his power.
The stage is austerely elegant, and looks like Apple’s version of an interrogation room. A single chair and table occupy the stage, with LEDs creating squares and rectangles in the background. The lights flicker and brighten as if they’re the pulse of the story. As for Daisey, he dominates the room despite never leaving his chair.
He bellows then confides, insults then dissects, all the while demonstrating unusual rhetorical mastery. His ability to weave knowledge throughout his performance is remarkable. In an indicative throwaway line, Daisey combines profanity with graphic design jargon to an create an in-joke that nonetheless doesn’t alienate. The observant monologue weaves history, anecdotes, and journalism to paint a portrait of a company whose success is due to the Machiavellian assholery of its CEO.
I remember little of the programming language I was taught in my tenth grade computer programming class – hell, I don’t ever remember my teacher’s name – but I do remember him telling us about Steve Jobs’ ruthless approach to business. Daisey tells the audience the audience the same story I once heard in class: Jobs stole the idea of the computer mouse from Xerox, who invented the device but had no idea how to market it. Such a factoid would go over well at an especially geeky dinner party, but Daisey uses it to crystallize a larger point about Apple and how we consume information. With a repeated hand gesture, Daisey signals how Jobs’ genius is his ability to recognize how advanced hardware changes our relationship with technology. Despite the lack of cyberpunk symbiosis, Daisey says, our iPhones have already seeped into our reality.
But the central point of The Agony of the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is not Jobs’ genius, or how amazing his products are. The heart of monologue is in Shenzhen, a Chinese industrial city. It is the home of Foxconn, the secretive company who manufactures the iPad and iPhone. Daisey recalls his conversations with Foxconn workers and the horrific hardships they endure just so a geek like him can have the latest gadget.
He does not admonish us for our lust over Apple’s latest product (I have my share), for he playfully acknowledges his role as a diehard consumer. Using exaggerated voices and blubbery bluster, Daisey jabs at Apple’s failings, Jobs’ subordinates, and the stupefying mediocrity of Powerpoint. Such funny moments are necessary, if a little repetitive, since they’re the sugar that helps us swallow the bitter pill of Apple’s corporate apathy. It’s impossible to tell, of course, how much Daisey exaggerates, but his authoritative presence and self-deprecation suggests unflappable trustworthiness. If you crave first-rate theater or remain a loyal Apple consumer, you ought to see The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. It’ll turn your glossy smartphone into something far more significant than a vessel for Angry Birds.
The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs running at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company until April 17th. Buy tickets here!