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Why the Jobs play?

From the print edition

I had never heard of Mike Daisey until I read a curious headline in the online magazine Salon: “Can One Man Change Apple?” I expected the story to be about recently deceased icon Steve Jobs. But it was not his picture in the story – it was that of an actor. As I read on, I realized that Apple did need to change, and that Mike Daisey had a piece of theater we needed in Costa Rica. 

When monologist Mike Daisey heard that someone had found photos inside new iPhones, he was intrigued. Obviously, the photos were taken to test the iPhone’s camera. He had always assumed that Apple devices were made by robots. The thought of just who it was that made millions of these gadgets took Daisey to China.

Out of his trip came “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” the monologue he has been performing since 2010, a witty and irreverent piece full of humor and spicy language. In it, Daisey weaves the tapestry of his passion for Apple products with stories about Steve Jobs, our manic lust for electronic gadgets and the inhumane conditions under which those devices are made in China.

The success of his performances raised public awareness and brought him much press attention. Ira Glass, of public radio program “This American Life,” aired an excerpt from the monologue on Jan. 6, and then all hell broke loose for Mike Daisey.

To a North American journalist in Shanghai who heard the program, some of the details sounded strange. For instance, Daisey mentioned seeing armed guards at Foxconn, the huge factory where most of the electronics are made. But the journalist knew that only the police and the military in China are allowed to bear arms. He contacted Daisey’s translator, who said Daisey had made up or exaggerated some details. On March 16, Glass dedicated a TAL show to having Daisey retract some of his claims and apologize for violating the rules of journalism. Daisey admitted to making composites, rearranging events and embellishing details of his trip to Shenzhen, for the theatrical effect of his monologue.

“But,” says Ruth Franklin of The New Republic, “very little … seems actually to be untrue. … No one disputes that he got the basics of the story right: Foxconn’s deplorable treatment of its employees.” The New York Times published two exposes of working conditions at Chinese plants that supply Apple. As recently as March, the Fair Labor Association – a consortium of businesses, civil organizations and academic institutions that protects workers’ rights and fair labor standards – also issued a report denouncing terrible working conditions at Foxconn.

What critics forget, says Franklin, “is that the theater, like the novel, operates by different rules than journalism does. Glass seems to have forgotten that the character Mike Daisey isn’t Daisey; it’s his dramatic persona.” 

Griselda Murray Brown of London’s Financial Times, in reviewing May performances by Daisey at Suffolk’s HighTide Festival in England, alluded to his misleading audiences as a mistake: “Few people believe Daisey was right to mislead his audiences; the issue, how our heedless choices affect tens of thousands of factory workers, is too important. But what those who gave Daisey a standing ovation at HighTide were applauding, I think, was his ability to speak to their consciences, to open their eyes. His monologue is a piece of theatre unlike any other I’ve experienced.”

Before the controversy, Daisey declared his monologue an “open source,” and gave permission for it to be adapted, modified and performed as directors wish. Given the compelling nature and dramatic immediacy of this piece, Ann Antkiw and I adapted the monologue to a staged reading by five actors. Cast members include Barbara Adams, Ron Boston, Lisa DeFuso, Tom Humes, Caroline Kennedy, Susan Liang and Vicky Longland.

“The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” will open May 19 at 7:30 p.m. at Hotel Club del Mar in Jacó. For reservations in Jacó, call 2643-3194.

At the Teatro Laurence Olivier (Ave. 2, Calle 28, next to the Sala Garbo), the play opens Friday, May 25, and will be staged for two weekends on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. General donation: {6,000 ($12). Members tickets cost {5,500 ($11). On May 26, tickets are two-for-one for members. Group rates (10 or more) are 15 percent off. For reservations and information, call 8858-1446 or visit


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