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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 6, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 18
Mike Daisey puts audiences through unforgettable Agony
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Mike Daisey puts audiences through unforgettable Agony

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through May 22


Mike Daisey loves, loves, loves Apple and Apple products, so he went to China to find out more about where they are made. He tried normal, bureaucratic ways to visit factories located in a humongous complex in Shenzhen, China, at a company called Foxconn, which employs 400,000 people, but he came up against all kinds of brick walls in this very secretive society. So, he apparently put on a Hawaiian shirt (if people are going to stereotype Americans, he thought he'd go ahead and stand out) and pretended to be an American businessman looking for factories to partner with.

Only then was Daisey able to penetrate the Chinese veneer and explore what is an amazing, heart-wrenching, and horrifying human tragedy that unfolds every day in the making of some of world's most popular electronic gadgets.

He somehow interviewed dozens of real factory workers (in the first two hours alone, he met some as young as 12, 13, and 14) who told of unimaginable factory conditions where no one speaks (for eight to 12 hours at a time) unless they want to be fired, where there is little equipment (fingers are cheaper and more accurate than machines), and where the dormitories are stacked to the ceiling with beds you have to crawl into. He was shown lists of blacklisted people who had spoken up and asked for more humane treatment. Once a worker's spine fuses or their fingers lose their dexterity - as early as age 19 - they are essentially thrown away.

He bullshat his way onto factory floors with 35,000 people working and not speaking - apparently only one floor of dozens in the building - and a cafeteria that seats 25,000, which he said is always full of workers. He was told about workers throwing themselves off the top of the Foxconn building because working conditions were so horrendous, and he saw the response of the Foxconn management: netting hung around the tops of the building to catch jumpers.

This is part of what Daisey wants to help you see during his two-hour monologue at Seattle Rep. He connects the conditions in China with his love of Apple and the rise and success of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Daisey relates the history of Apple to Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Jobs' firing and rehiring by Apple prior to the triumphs that are the iPhone and iPad.

Daisey, clearly immeasurably aided by his life-partner, wife and director Jean-Michele Gregory, puts on a hell of a show. He is funny, bombastic, dramatic, outrageous, and his ability to manage a stage is at its peak. He's honed his craft to a fine art by this point, as his restless intelligence has explored and created monologues examining electrical generation (Monopoly), economic global interconnectedness (The Last Cargo Cult), and even how theater works or doesn't (How Theater Failed America), among other complicated topics.

He often combines at least two strains of information into an integrated delivery, like the history of Apple with working conditions in China. Here he is using (abusing, maybe) Apple to illustrate our love of technology and our obsession with faster, smaller, and cheaper, and connecting it to the corporate consequences that conspire to bring us what we crave. He makes clear that Apple is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the only corporation turning a blind eye to inhumane factory conditions.

This is awesome entertainment. Even as we are made to squirm about the electronics we carry, we laugh awkwardly at ourselves and leave the theater inculcated with a virus-like inability to forget how our electronics might have little tiny fingers caught inside them.

Ever seen a Michael Moore movie? Mike Daisey is there, in person, to tell you a story you will never forget.

For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222.

Discuss your opinions at sgncritic@gmail.com.

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