The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
"The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" by Mike Daisey is a controversial monologue that examines the legacy of Steve Jobs, investigates our culture of technological obsession, and ultimately, charges us, both consumers and producers, with responsibility for the effects that our demand for these hi-tech toys have.
While the original production of the play was first performed at Woolly Mammoth nearly two years ago, much has changed since. "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" has returned to the Woolly Mammoth following controversy over fabricated portions of the play’s story. This new production features a revised script that removes the controversial material and confronts the issues raised in a more directed approach.
In a monologue there are many opportunities for things to go awry; the production hinges solely on the power of the script and the talent of the performer. Fortunately, Mike Daisey has triumphed in both aspects.
In the very first scene the audience is introduced to the character of Mike through his experience in the Chungkin Mansions in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Through only eloquent prose and brilliantly acted narration the audience is transported to a wet monsoon season night in a place that exudes a sense of both danger and dark thrill.
It is in this shady market of mysterious roots, drugs, prostitution, and off-brand Slurpee machines that the audience joins Mike, dressed defiantly in a loud Hawaiian shirt, on his journey to unlock his iPhone.
It is in that scene, as the hacker gives Mike true possession of something people ostensibly own, that the overall tone of the play is set: a finely woven piece that, much like life, is made of interwoven threads of laughter, seriousness and introspection.
The character of Mike is easy for the audience to connect to on several levels. He is the investigative personality, the humorous soul, the vocal advocate, but most of all he is a technological enthusiast. One amusing scene has the character trying, in vain, to translate his excitement over the unveiling of a new type of wireless router to his wife.
But while amusing the scene also illustrates the consumer trend of wanting, either consciously or subconsciously, the newest fad so compulsively that the line between what one wants and what one needs become increasingly blurred.
Even as Mike is descriptively describing the inadequacies of his newly "obsolete" router, a voice in the back of his mind insists that the new gadget that he wants provides features that he doesn’t need. Needless to say, the voice is quickly silenced.
Of all the scenes, the most important for setting up the spirit of the play is the one in which Mike becomes increasingly intrigued by four nondescript photos.
These photos, taken to test the camera on an iPhone inside the production facility and accidentally shipped to a consumer, are of a palette of boxes, a conveyer belt, a wide empty space and a expressionless woman in a suit.
It is from these photos that Mike’s focus slowly shifts from the product itself to those who manufacture it. It is the question of who these people are that drives the rest of the play and leads both Mike and the audience down the rabbit hole into a whole new world.
"The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" runs through August 5 at the Wooly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street NW, in Washington, DC. For info or tickets call 202-393-3939 or visit http://www.woollymammoth.net/.