Wednesday, June 18, 2008

How Theater Failed America

Photo/Ursa Waz

Mike Daisey quickly gets to the point in How Theater Failed America, because his monologue has more important goals than the schaudenfraud desire to see Charles Isherwood, Disney, and the lot get theirs. His goal isn’t some global-warming summit filled with hot air and no answers (though he does get aboil): it’s How Theater Failed Mike Daisey. His vibrant drop-of-a-dime storytelling—always sincere—lands between the steadfast directness of Spalding Grey and the manic energy of Chris Farley.

Extemporaneous only in the sense that a well-rehearsed stand-up comedian still knows when to improvise, his sit-down manner is so direct and open—a real monologue, actually spoken to people rather than air—that he’s able to switch totally from talking about how subscriptions are “an opportunity to be randomly fucked in the ass” to how, finding himself back home post-college, he’d think of suicide nightly while doing the dead man’s float in an increasingly icy lake. Whether it’s the subtle combination of AJ Epstein’s focused lights and Jean-Michel Gregory’s sharpened direction or the sight of a man pantomiming the way Sweden shits money into artists’ mouths, it's impossible to look away.

“I just wanted to hear it said,” he says, bringing an end to his tales of robotic regional models, flopped theater companies, and arts institutions that paradoxically take fewer risks the larger they grow. We’re there, to answer Mike’s question, because we just wanted to hear it said, too—and because he says it better than any of us: more creatively, more imaginatively, more hysterically. Would you run sports like theater? “Taking the field, a random bunch of motherfuckers. You’ve never met any of them before, but get excited because some of them have been in Law & Order!” Could you, a starving artist, do something as “super fucked up” as masturbating on stage for the “art” of Jean Genet’s The Balcony?

There’s a table and the stage separating him from us, but he speaks directly to us, and at least for one night, the theater has not failed.

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