Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
Do you own an iPhone, an iPad, or any other beautifully designed product from Apple? Have you ever thought about the work that goes into creating these devices, and the working and living conditions of the people who do it? Monologuist Mike Daisey has.
Daisey (with the assistance of his wife and director, Jean-Michele Gregory) returns to Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company with The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a work in which he examines his love of technology. Specifically, he acknowledges his years-long fascination with the visionary co-founder of Apple, a "techno-libertarian hippie" whose passion for design coexists with a ruthless focus on business.
In a solo performance that runs slightly less than two hours without intermission, Daisey blends the hilarioushis evisceration of Microsoft PowerPoint presentations as tools of the devil strikes home for much of the audiencewith the horrifying. As intrigued as Daisey is by tech companies' ability to "make us need something we never knew we wanted," all clean and shiny, he decides to look behind the curtain and reveal the "face of pure capitalism and corporatism" through a visit to a Chinese electronics manufacturing plant.
For most of its long history, Daisey says, Shenzhen was a quiet village north of Hong Kong. However, in the late 1970s the Chinese government declared Shenzhen a Special Economic Zone, and today the area has 14 million residents and air quality that "feels like a booted foot on your chest." Almost half a million people work in the plant he visited, some as young as 13; their shifts officially end after 12 hours but never really do, and the employees live crammed into small concrete rooms in their "dormitories." Daisey also mentions the nets hanging around the exterior walls of the plantthe management's concession during an epidemic of employee suicides.
No, it isn't a feel-good story Daisey tells, but it's a real one, and he tells it in a way that doesn't alienate the audience. He still loves technology, but now he has more understanding of where it comes from and a lot of suggestions for users of technology to shine a light on corporate malfeasance and work to eradicate it.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company