Redemption Play

Mike Daisey revisits the ‘Steve Jobs’ saga in his (edited) return to Woolly Mammoth

July 26, 2012

Mike Daisey’s controversial play “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” gets a new run at Woolly — and some heavy edits.

It’s hard out there for a regional theater. You score an original nonfiction show that goes on to worldwide fame; then it turns out the show was more than a little bit fictional and everything comes crashing down.

That’s what happened to the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company with its 2010 hit, Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.” This season, the theater is trying to undo the crashing-down part with a return engagement.

“Our rationale for bringing it back was, ‘Why walk away from a conversation that’s even richer than it was before?’” says Howard Shalwitz, Woolly’s artistic director.

The theater had decided to do a second run of “Steve Jobs” before the scandal broke earlier this year regarding fabrications in Daisey’s reporting. At issue: the conditions at the Foxconn factory in China, which manufactures Apple devices. In the aftermath, Shalwitz says, Woolly decided through careful conversations to keep the play in this season’s lineup.

“We felt that there was a lot we had to get to the bottom of for ourselves, and that what was mistaken or exaggerated needed to be acknowledged and apologized for,” Shalwitz says. “And that what was great and brilliant and important and impactful about the piece did not need to be apologized for.”

The contested material has been removed from the show, but Shalwitz isn’t sure what effect Daisey’s reputation as a fabulist will have on ticket sales. (Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak will join a special discussion at the 8 p.m. performance on Sat., Aug. 4, which should help.)

“Mike Daisey’s more famous than he was before, but will people want to see it?” He bets they will. “I wish there were more people who had his guts.”

Woolly Mammoth, 641 D St. NW; through Aug. 5, $45-$67.50; 202-393-3939. (Gallery Place)

Half-Truths and Consequences

Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” began its life at Woolly Mammoth in 2010, then moved on to a run at New York City’s Public Theater and was later featured on “This American Life.” The one-man show contrasts the glories of modern electronics with the working conditions in the factories where they’re made, and it renewed public interest in Chinese labor conditions. Turns out, Daisey fabricated or exaggerated several incidents featured in the work. He has since apologized and removed the questionable portions from the show.

Daisey’s New Work

Sunday at 7 p.m., Woolly will premiere Mike Daisey’s “The Orient Express (Or, the Value of Failure),” a new monologue. The free show, scheduled for just one performance, is a workshop presentation about the scandal of “Steve Jobs,” and Daisey’s instinctive reaction to run from his problems by taking a train ride from London to Istanbul.

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Stephen M. Deusner · July 26, 2012