Steve Jobs is dead, Mike Daisey has been shamed, Foxconn still employs nets between its buildings to catch the bodies of workers who would rather die than sit for hours repetitively placing SIM pins alongside Apple chips onto labor-laden motherboards while simultaneously not having time for thoughts or the legal right to gesture boldly or to utter words to apparently anyone during the course of a 12-hour workday.
What does all this information have to do with the theater? Well, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” which is a solo show initially written and performed by Mike Daisey about, in part, the labor practices of Foxconn, plays now at Theatre Asylum in Hollywood.
Mike Daisey, a long-time solo performer, wrote the original script and was afterward lauded for its impact but then denigrated for its journalistic flaws by Ira Glass and several others.
One key aspect of the show that may have inspired Glass and others to turn angry when they found out that a few of the show's “facts” were instead the writer-performer’s embellishments, is the format. The show is a lecture, and the text is an autobiographical account mixed with exposition about actual people, places and companies. Such a documentary-style conceit lures the audience into believing that what is being said is in fact non-fiction.
Furthermore, if the purpose of the piece is to incite the audience to act upon the information provided, then the information provided should be worthy of that audience's time, intellect and action.
Nonetheless, despite any controversy, and perhaps because of it, the show, as it is currently performed by honed writer-performer Alex Lyras, is informative and engaging. Lyras has been granted permission by the author to change the text so that it is evermore journalistically sound, so that it fits Lyras' own beguiling personality, and so that it is accessible to a diverse Hollywood audience.
If opening night is any indication, that openness to change and consequential current version together form a striking success.
Alex Lyras is charismatic, authentic and empathic, and the show moves people, if not immediately to act, then at least to become aware of the products they use and of the struggles that compound in the lives of the people who build them.
If the goal of this play remains to effect eco-political action, then perhaps Mike Daisey will give other writer-performers across the globe full freedom to tweak the material so that presenters of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life may spread the evermore-worthy word in a way that suits their specific needs.
(Note: Mike Daisy contacted me to clarify a few things. Ironic? Perhaps! Daisey posted online a year ago an already-revised and fact-checked edition that anyone, not just Alex Lyras, may revise and perform. Since that posting, the script has been downloaded approximately 150,000 times, produced at least 50 times and translated into six languages. So, it is not only Alex Lyras who has enjoyed the freedom to spread the Mike Daisey message. Indeed, my words might have implied that Lyras was granted special permission rather than simply permission...
Ultimately, it is this reviewer's hope that people across the land find clever, innovative and theatrical ways to make another person's personalized, first-person account work. In the showing I saw, there were some awkward moments where the audience wasn't clear whose point of view was being shared. Perhaps that is because the words are clearly those of an American male of a certain station, so that when another American male of similar station performs the piece, there might be a bit of confusion. I would love to see, then, a showing by a woman from Brazil where Foxconn has several factories, a 10 year-old boy or girl who might represent all child laborers around the world, or perhaps a group of performers from Shenzhen speaking in perfect unison to highlight the way so many workers in Shenzhen seemingly spend their highly-regimented days. Perhaps such versions already exist. I hope so!)
“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” engages, instructs and implores every Wednesday evening (and one Sunday, which is March 31) at Theatre Asylum through April 10. Tickets may be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets.