You’ve probably never looked at your iPhone and felt like an asshole before. Okay, I mean, maybe a text or email made you feel pretty shitty, once or twice. But I’m talking about something much bigger here. I’m talking about feeling loathsome for even having such a device in your hands. About, to quote Mike Daisey, seeing “blood welling up between the keys.”
This is probably how you will feel after seeing The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Mr. Daisey’s one-man show now open at the Public’s Martinson Hall.
Sounds like fun, right? …Okay. So it’s not strictly fun. And there are no shirtless, six-pack sporting boys doing endless pirouettes, or divas belting their lungs out.
There is just a man, rotund and sweaty, seated behind a spare, sleek glass topped desk and mopping his brow frequently as he performs a two hour monologue without a script, working from pages torn out of a yellow legal pad.
So why do you want to see Agony/Ecstasy, then, dear reader?
Frankly, because it is incredible. Because Daisey put himself at incredible risk—we’re talking life and limb here, people—to uncover truths Corporate America is deeply invested in hiding from you. This is gonzo journalism at its finest. And every time Daisey turns over a new yellow page your heart will contract, because you are dying to know what comes next, and yet, you are horrified. Terrified.
Agony/Ecstasy is a tapestry of anecdotes about Daisey’s love for Apple, a brief history of Steve Jobs’ career, and devastating stories of his time as an investigative journalist in Shenzhen, China. It is the story of how Apple came to be, of how our modern consumer culture came to be, of how that cell phone ringing behind you in that woman’s purse came to be.
Agony/Ecstasy is also edge-of-your-seat compelling, even as it runs 120 intermission-less minutes—and that’s not because Steve Jobs just died and you’re waiting to hear how Daisey will address the loss. No. It’s because Agony/Ecstasy is a remarkable feat of storytelling.
You will laugh out loud sometimes (there’s a jizz joke!). And you’ll probably learn a few things about Steve Jobs. But more importantly, you will learn some things about how the technology around which we’ve built our modern lives actually came to be.
At the end of the show, I was embarrassed to look at the cellphone in my hands—and it wasn’t even an Apple device!—to turn it back on the way I had at the end of so many shows, and know the human cost at which it had been delivered to me. I wanted to throw it far, far away. And worse, I knew I couldn’t. It is an inexorable part of my life now, the way I work, the way I play, the way I get from one day to the next.
Fortunately, at the end of the show, an usher will hand you a piece of paper to tell you what you can do. You should take one. And then, you should keep talking. I know we did, at first, right outside the theater and then in the days after, with anyone who would listen. Because the world needs more voices like Mike Daisey.
Photo: Joan Marcus
Tickets provided by the production.