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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

American Utopias

Also see Susan's review of The Last Five Years and coverage of The Helen Hayes Awards


Mike Daisey
The last time monologist Mike Daisey visited Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, he shared some uncomfortable truths about the human cost to Chinese workers behind the sleek surface of Apple's high-tech toys. Now he's back with American Utopias, in which he examines three social constructs much closer to home.

Daisey responds to questions of his veracity with a clever bit of wording in the program: "This is a true story, and like every story being told in every medium, all stories are fiction." The current performance covers his visit to the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, accompanied by his wife and director, Jean-Michele Gregory; their trip to Walt Disney World with Disney-worshipping relatives; and his view (from across the river) of the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City's Zuccotti Park—three intentionally created communities.

Daisey sculpts and paints with his words, so when he talks about the drive from Oregon to the Burning Man site, he tells of how he felt "a hacky sack of anxiety grow into a bowling ball of existential dread" during the trip, and depicts the self-contained world of the art and music festival as a cross between the apocalyptic paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and the homemade elegance of Martha Stewart.

His withering comments about the cult of Mickey Mouse are even more pointed and hilarious. Daisey describes the flight to Orlando on a Disney-affiliated airline, followed by a ride to the park on a Disney bus equipped with promotional videos that encourage visitors who haven't yet arrived to make their reservations for a return trip. Everyone and everything is on message within the confines of Walt Disney World, he notes, and every guest will have an enjoyable visit—even if that means spending time at Epcot tasting "sodas of the world."

In contrast, Daisey's comments about Occupy Wall Street are not as immediate and they don't have as much of an impact. Rather than go to the park himself, he attended a conference in Brooklyn on the ramifications of the movement and engaged only with people like himself.

To sum up, time spent with Mike Daisey is never wasted. His perceptions are never less than interesting and audiences never know in advance where he's going to lead them.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
American Utopias
March 25th - April 21st
Created and performed by Mike Daisey
Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or www.woollymammoth.net


Photo: Photo by Ursa Waz


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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