Monday, October 17, 2011

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

When Steve Jobs died on October 5 at the young age of 56, my Twitter feed was filled with messages about him, all positive. I think that's the first time I saw so many Twitter reactions completely without snark. People clearly felt a strong connection to this man. Monologist Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs started previews at the Public Theater a week later, on October 11, and opened last night (he has performed the show around the country). Jobs's death was incorporated into the show (Daisey doesn't work with a set script), but his look at the man and the company he created is no less critical.

It helps that Daisey is an Apple aficionado. He was one of the people who worshipped at the house of Jobs, but then one day he saw photos mistakenly left on iPhone taken by workers at a Chinese factory to test the camera on the phone. He began to wonder about the origins of his phone. He went to Shenzhen in China and visited Foxconn, the world's largest electronics manufacturer. He explains the conditions at the factory--the cafeteria, the dormitories, the nets used as a response to mass suicides, breaking up the stories about his own experiences in China with the history of Apple.

Two hours is a long time to listen to one man speak, but anyone who has seen Daisey perform (which I hadn't until last week) knows what a dynamic presence he is. Looking a bit like a cartoon character sitting behind his desk, constantly wiping his sweaty brow, shifting between a gentle and loud voice, he commands attention. The production, directed by his wife Jean-Michele Gregory, is simple, with Daisey sitting behind a desk, and not much more is needed. Suspense is added by Seth Reiser's lighting.

Daisey speaks about hearing the news of Jobs's death in a surprisingly moving end: "He was my hero. He was the only hero I ever had." As the audience wandered out of the theater, I overheard many grappling with turning on their beloved iPhones, but at the end of the day, this show is probably not going to make anyone give up technology or iProducts. And that's not what Daisey is advocating. What it will do is educate. And that's a good first step. (Flyers are handed out at the end of the show with more information about what you can do if you are compelled to take action.)

Photo credit: Joan Marcus

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