Arts & Events

and that thing in your pocket

by John A. McMullen II
Monday January 31, 2011 - 09:00:00 PM

We all love it when the curtain is pulled and the hubristic man behind it is revealed. We don’t all love it when the I-thing we just turned off and slipped into our pocket is shown to be the product of something near slave-labor. 

For an uninterrupted 105 minutes, without rising from behind his transparent glass desk, Mike Daisey hypnotized his Berkeley Rep audience with interwoven stories about Apple, Mac, China, and the corporate, out-sourced horror-show that feeds our electronic habit. THE AGONY AND ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS had them laughing out loud and cringing within, and they all rose to applaud his mastery as a raconteur, as well as his Michael Moore exposé spirit.  

Rotund with happy features, Daisey resembles Dom DeLuise, uses the indignant outbursts of Lewis Black, and occasionally growls like a perturbed Jackie Gleason. His delivery often recalls the late Spaulding Gray. With a glass of water, a few loose sheets of yellow legal paper with notes which he turns emphatically to accent his point, and a cross-hatch patch of lighting behind—likewise used to emphasize and turn the page—he monologues with machine-gun rapidity and but with sniper-like accuracy at the failed messiah. 

Daisey makes it personal and confesses to being Apple/Mac-o-phile. He traces the lineage and legend of the computer from its hobbyist base to its proprietary everything under Job’s vision. He agonizes over the realities that he uncovers, but still revels in the ecstatic hold the contraptions have over him. 

Daisey characterizes Steve Jobs as the only one able to hold together all the other mad geniuses at Apple. From his pristine aesthetic of the software to the outer shell, Jobs is the mastermind, the sui generis, the necessary emperor that they can’t do without. 

Then his tale shifts to Shen-Jen, that model city of industry where most all of the world’s cell phones are made by hand by Chinese workers doing 14 hour shifts. I’d never heard of this place, which has as many workers as Oakland has people, and who are turned into human machines for your consumer pleasure. 

Custom has been that theatrical biographical fare occurred after the demise of the subject. This is fascinating stuff, since Jobs is alive, if not too well. Curiously, Daisey avoids Job’s pancreatic cancer and 10 day old announcement of his second medical leave. Indeed, online business website IT Business Edge just ran a story entitled “Steve Jobs Leaves Apple: The Problem of an Iconic CEO.” This could be a subtitle for Daisey’s work. 

Don’t worry about the no-intermission thing. It was a shoulder-to-shoulder full-house, and nobody moved. Just get there a few minutes early, for the pre-show bathroom queue is considerable. 

More Michael Moore-like divulgences are unwrapped in Daisey’s companion piece “Last Cargo Cult” which plays in repertory and purports to bear witness to the collapse of the world’s financial system. 

John A. McMullen II writes as “Eye from the Aisle.” Comments to EJ Dunne edits.