Theatre Spiked Sunday Morning: On Experiencing “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”

Mike Daisey (photo by Kevin Berne)

Race.  Labor.  Civil War.  Apple.  Corporate responsibility, art, and Christ.  The present moment, Sabbath, friendship, taking on the world.  Somewhere in China, men, women, boys, and girls, each having singular, personal names just like we do, sacred mysteries all (see yesterday’s post), will go to work today, and the only thing keeping them from flinging themselves off the top of the building where they work is a suicide net.  This after they’ve reportedly signed the no-suicide clause of the contract necessary before they could get the job.   Back in America, blacks, latinos, Jews, and all manner of minority groups will face a day where put-downs, insults, glass ceilings, and injustices galore will greet them as their children play outside, and as the injustice wagon gets pulled around the planet, the skin colors and histories and particular hatreds change from country to country, but the I-hate-you-for-no-good-reason-except-that-you’re-not-me circus goes on.  The history of peoples, businesses, nations, ethnicities, and religions moseys on.   And in an etherland neither seen nor much believed in, perhaps the ghouly harbingers of rage, cruelty, and hatred sit on haunches thigh-deep in sin, evil, wrong, and gut-busting despair, enjoying their perch atop the high reaches, cackling and chortling at the fools of dirty earth.

Where’s a rapture when you need one?

It’s Paul’s letter to the Colossians for my Sunday morning get-my-head-in-the-game time, but Mike Daisey keeps running around in my consciousness hollering and gesturing and slamming tables, railing at me about Steve Jobs, the laptop I’m typing on, and the likely teenage hands that put the whole computer together by hand in a 12 hour shift.   I say running around–Daisey’s actually just sitting in one spot, roaring away, a tiny piece of profuse sweat and spit hurling himself at a world colossus riding a whirlwind.   Daisey is John the Baptist converting the old guard one offender at a time, infecting all us lesser sinners with a virus, as he puts it, that will not go away.

I’m talking about The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a monologue performance (I’ve done some of those) by Mike Daisey closing today at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.   Add it to the handful of performances I’ve seen in my life that will lock themselves in my mind and experience as the essence of what the theatre is about, what it’s here to do, and how it accomplishes it. Not to mention the fact that my love affair with all things Apple has been laced now with an angst I’m not altogether happy about, but am thankful for.

Daisey’s work is not for everyone, and will certainly not have much appeal for many conservative types, religious or not.  F-bombs sail into the audience with great regularity, serving all manner of purposes from shrill comedy to blasting outrage and contempt. And if he was just getting paid to make me forget my troubles and dragging me through mud to do it, I’d complain.  But this man is on a mission–a startling, compelling, well worth doing, mission.   He’s an old-time abolitionist, a rabble-rousing labor organizer, a man kicking corporate America in the place where it hurts most.

To make a long story short, Daisey is creating a troubling triangle between 1) the business genius and personality of Steve Jobs and the Apple Kingdom (and folks like him), 2) Shenzhen, China, and a 430,000 worker factory that hand-assembles many of the Apple products (and to be fair, the electronic products of about half of everything bought in the U.S., and 3) you and me and our blindness as consumers complicit in life-destroying labor practices around the world.

Brilliantly conceived, powerfully delivered, and disturbingly effective, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs created a congregation out of us disparate ticket-holders.   Perhaps we weren’t ready to run from the theatre and smash our iPhones (after all, I do need to check the weather, post some photos, and yes! tweet about the play I just saw! ), but the young factory hands (that will become damaged discarded hands from the industrial repetition strain inherent in assembling these laptops and iPads in the process line) will be in our consciousness for a long time.   The image Mike Daisey wanted us to leave with, that made us laugh, perhaps too uncomfortably, was a bit over the top.  Or was it?

Blood oozing up through the keys on the keyboard.

I suppose my pump had been primed by the work on the Civil War that is informing my own playwriting just now, not to mention seeing Brownie Points Friday night at Taproot (Another play addressing injustice and race, but more on that play later.)  Daisey’s reporting of the labor practices in Shenzhen reminded me so much of the conditions of slavery before the Civil War, and what some have called the neo-slavery after.   Do things never change?

There was even a handout at the end.   Really?  A handout?  A “what-to-do-next” handout?  Yes, and it made complete sense. There were four suggestions, and I suppose with the blog piece, I’ve taken part in one.  But the point to notice is that the force of what we’d just seen made it completely reasonable that action was expected, and we knew it.

If it was just agit-prop, I’d complain.

As it turns out, my Sunday morning is spiked with the headiness of what great theatre can do.

Are you sure you really want to talk faith and art…

2 Replies to “Theatre Spiked Sunday Morning: On Experiencing “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs””

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