Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (Encore Run)

Mike Daisey
In 2010, when Mike Daisey came to Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company to premiere The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, neither he nor the theater knew the controversy that would result from his consideration of business ethics and technological innovation. Now Daisey returns to Woolly with a retooled version of his monologue in which he addresses the issues of truthfulness that have arisen in the past two years. His director and wife, Jean-Michele Gregory, has guided him as he modulates his voice from tense stage whispers to frustrated shouting.

Dramatic license is an accepted part of storytelling—unless the teller states explicitly that he personally experienced everything in his story. Daisey ran into trouble not because his stories of desperate labor conditions in Chinese factories were untrue (other sources, notably The New York Times, later corroborated them) but because he had not seen all of them firsthand.

In Daisey's words, part of the genius of Jobs, who died in 2011, was the way he could make people "need something we never even knew we wanted." He presents a brief history of Apple and the yin-yang balance between Jobs, the "techno-libertarian hippie" with a ruthless devotion to the bottom line, and the more easygoing Steve Wozniak. (Daisey admits that he is an "Apple fanboy" who relaxes after a performance by breaking down his MacBook Pro into 43 component parts, cleaning them, then reassembling the computer.)

The tension arises between the desire for beautifully designed, elegant gadgets that can do almost anything and the people who manufacture those products. "How often do we say we wish things were handmade?" Daisey asks the audience. "Everything is handmade—if you have the eyes to see it." He traveled to China, where a contractor called Foxconn employs 430,000 in just one of its factories to manufacture iPods and iPhones for Apple.

People want their high-tech toys and don't want to believe that they were made under oppressive conditions by thousands of workers crammed into vast factories and crowded dormitories. Daisey does (understandably) reveal some defensiveness about the challenges to his integrity. "Why believe me? Maybe none of this is true," he says near the end of the almost two-hour-long performance. "You don't have to listen to me. You never had to." But the kicker is, as he acknowledges, "We don't want it to be real."

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
July 17th - August 5th
Created and performed by Mike Daisey
Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or

Photo: Stan Barouh

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