Mike Daisy's new show, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” is simply brilliant. Over the course of an uninterrupted two hours he sits at a glass desk in front of a huge panel of lighted LED strips framing the stage behind him and talks to us. Daisy is a very smart man and he has some important ideas about living in the technological age, and the effect of that technology on living. He is also an incredibly powerful stage presence; he held our attention without even a momentary lapse through his entire discourse. Without moving from his chair, his face and body animated and punctuated his amusement, outrage, incredulity, wisdom and above all passion for communicating his experiences and insights to us. Mike Daisy is a large man, but it was a different kind of stature entirely that filled this theater.
The production begins easily enough with his personal stories of his long-standing affection (maybe obsession) with technology, and especially with the personal technology that has so infiltrated all of our lives. His focus here is on Apple , and the devices that revolutionized the industry, how it fell into commercial desperation and ultimately re-invented itself into a global business more powerful than ever. Of course, no examination of Apple can even begin without a portrait of Steve Jobs, a man that Daisy describes as a “technological genius and a ruthless businessman.” It is in those segments where he begins to weave the threads of geopolitical progress and individual humanity, of business advantage and interpersonal exploitation. Those themes are writ large when he relays the story of his visit to Shenzhen, China, a new economic zone where in a single factory, a factory where over 400,000 workers toil under terrible conditions and for terrible hours, they produce fully half of all the world's personal electronics. Every one of those ipods and ipads and countless millions of cell phones are, as Daisy says with painful irony, “made by hand.”
Daisy also interpolates his recognition of those developments which lead to “changing the metaphor” of how we view life and our fellow human beings, whether that is through virtual communication in the place of physical encounters or divorcing ourselves from the connection between the cool toys we buy and the wretched lives of those who produce them. Invisibly directed by Jean-Michele Gregory, perhaps the most incredible thing about Daisy's performance is that it is extemporaneous. He does not have the text in front of him, or in his memory, but only an outline of what he will talk about. Hard to believe because his language is so precise, so seemingly crafted and articulate, so powerfully immediate and poetic. Because we are confident that he knows exactly what he needs to say next, we can trust that nothing in this discourse is accidental, nor is it contrived. It is simply expressed. He is talking to us. He is saying what he most passionately wants to say, and what he most passionately wants us to hear.
“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” is, of course, equally the agony and the ecstasy of Mike Daisy. It's an unforgettable experience and my new personal standard for how dynamic and genuine the human voice coming from a stage can be. It is a return to a fundamental binary of theatrical communication. One person speaking. One person listening.