Off-Broadway Show Pulls No Punches on Steve Jobs' Mixed Legacy
Monologist Mike Daisey shares stories about Apple's involvement with factories in China.
CREDIT: The Public Theater, New York City
NEW YORK – Nearly two weeks after the death of Steve Jobs, a monologue about the former Apple CEO and his quest for product design perfection has arrived off-Broadway, its tenses changed but its passions intact.
"The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" – a one-man show featuring superb storytelling by self-proclaimed Apple fanboy Mike Daisey – is not the typical homage to the tech visionary. In fact, attendees may even look at their phones squeamishly when the lights come back on.
Intermingled between laugh-out-loud anecdotes about Jobs' love for Apple technology and his obsession with precision and flawlessness are chilling illustrations by Daisey of the human toll in creating these devices.
The production opened at the Public Theater last night (Oct. 17), after Daisey had taken the show on the road for over a year in cities from Sydney to Seattle. The announcement of Jobs' death affected some of his monologues – mostly by changing the tense that Daisey uses to refers to Jobs – but not its scheduled opening in Manhattan.
This is a no-frills production. Daisy sits alone on stage behind a table, which holds only a glass of water and several pages of notes for the captivating and often alarming stories he shares with the audience. Since he works without a set script, the content and performance time vary each night.
Daisey invariably shows his respect for Apple and how Jobs and the company impacted the lives of so many. "I am an Apple aficionado," he proclaims. “I am an Apple partisan. I am a worshipper in the cult of Mac. I have been to the House of Jobs. I have walked through the stations of his cross. I have knelt before his throne.” [Read: Behind a Visionary: The Science of Steve Jobs]
But these words almost serve as a disclaimer for what comes after. When the topic changes to the conditions in foreign factories that create our favorite Apple products, Daisey shifts to anger and shows no mercy.
During one part of his monologue, Daisey recounts how, posing as a businessman, he toured the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China, which gained notoriety over the past few years from a series of suicides by its workers. Daisey spoke with employees as young as 13 outside the factory gates about their grueling conditions and hours, and he visited the tiny bunkers that slept more than 10 people each night.
"Do you really think Apple doesn't know?" Daisy asked the audience.
In previous productions, Daisey has handed out Jobs' email address to audience members, encouraging them to share their concerns about the factory conditions overseas. On some occasions, Daisey said, Jobs would write back. Not surprisingly, he'd include a few choice words in those responses.
But the show isn't a complete downer. It's ripe with geeky jokes about font type, PowerPoint presentations and Jobs' early years at Apple. "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" isn’t just for tech fans – it's for anyone that reads the news.
Daisey has said he aims one day to work with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak to develop a nonprofit organization that puts international factories that create tech products in the spotlight for further investigation.
The show – directed by Daisey's wife, Jean-Michele Gregory – runs until Nov. 13.