With a bit of skillful tweaking — including a new tribute to the monologue’s subject — Mike Daisey has brought his bravura solo show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” to the Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York. And what he presents is now to my mind the best original American play so far this year.
Daisey performed this exquisitely written piece in the spring, in a successful run at Woolly Mammoth Theatre; it had its formal off-Broadway opening Monday night. The two-hour monologue, intoned from behind a sleek table, is Daisey’s account of his geeky obsession with iPads and MacBook Pros, a love affair tempered by the knowledge he acquired in an investigation of the conditions under which Apple products are manufactured in China.
The performer is nothing if not a passionate megaphone for irony and injustice. He makes no attempt to mask his outrage at what he describes as the ghastly pressures placed on assembly-line workers in the vast Shenzhen, China electronics factory that he tells us he infiltrated. Smartly, though, Daisey has excised a few shriller elements of the Washington version, in particular a hectoring of the audience to involve itself in the workers’ cause.
As the play — directed by Daisey’s wife Jean-Michele Gregory — is also a funny, cold-eyed recounting of Jobs’s leadership of Apple, the visionary’s recent death threatened to make the timing of “The Agony and the Ecstasy” feel unfortunate. But Daisey’s astuteness and the clarity of his analysis puts such worries to rest. The piece’s epilogue is now a heartfelt eulogy, and it casts “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” in a most becomingly generous light.| GALLERY: Click the image to view photos of Steve Jobs.
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