NEW YORK (AP) — Mike Daisey’s new show may be the only one in town where you may stifle the desire to automatically switch on your phone after it’s over. You may not even want to admit you have one.
What the monologist does over the course of two hours is make his audience deeply ashamed about the small, pretty devices we take for granted. In “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” which opened Monday at The Public Theater, Daisey drops a bomb: Most smart phones and tablets are made in Chinese sweatshops.
“You need to know how it connects to you,” he says, as always, from behind a desk.
Daisey, whose previous monologues include “The Last Cargo Cult” about the world financial crisis and “21 Dog Years,” a light, autobiographical account of his tenure as an employee of Amazon.com, returns with a personal, poignant and passionate piece that stays with you many days after you’ve seen it.
Daisey splices career milestones of Steve Jobs and the transformation of Apple Inc. from a David into a Goliath with more personal stories about his own connection to the computer maker. Daisey confesses he has long adored technology and especially the “bulbous and fruit colored” products from Apple.
“I am an Apple partisan,” he thunders. “I am a worshipper in the cult of Apple.”
That makes his disillusionment even more profound when he discovers that Apple — as well as most manufacturers of smartphones, laptops and tablets — are put together by people struggling in inhuman working conditions.
His world changed when he saw four photos posted online taken by workers at a Chinese factory to test the iPhone but mistakenly not erased. People, he suddenly realized, were putting the sleek devices together, not robots.
“I started to think, and that’s always a problem for any religion,” he says.
Daisey traveled to the Chinese industrial zone of Shenzhen and interviewed hundreds of workers from Foxconn Technology Group, the world’s largest electronics contract manufacturer. While he was there, Foxconn executives ringed their buildings with nets to discourage a rash of suicides. Daisey met very young workers whose joints in their hands were damaged because they performed the same action thousands of times a shift.
“Do you really think Apple doesn’t know?” Daisey asks.
For its part, Apple says it has long required its suppliers to commit to a code of conduct and that its representatives visit suppliers to ensure that sweatshop conditions don’t exist.
The outpouring of admiration for Jobs after the visionary’s death hasn’t changed Daisey’s tone. The Jobs that he summons is a passionate designer but also a ruthless businessman — a Darth Vadar with laser death vision but also a Willy Wonka. Jobs was a unique man, Daisey says, but a “brutal tyrant,” ”the enemy of nostalgia” and “the master of the forced upgrade.”
For Daisey, Jobs was also something else: “He was my hero,” he says in a touching moment as he describes being bathed in the light of a laptop the night he learned of Job’s death. “He was the only hero I ever had.”
The piece is not just a guilt-inducing downer. There are moments of pure levity, as when Daisey discusses his hatred of having to sit through PowerPoint presentations and when he dives deep into his geekness: “There’s nothing comic about Comic Sans,” he says straightfaced about the much-maligned font.
The new work is well-shaped by Jean-Michele Gregory’s direction and Daisey is mesmerizing in a stripped-down presentation. His desk, which includes his notes and a glass of water but no Apple devices, is cleverly put in front of a wall of scaffolding designed by Seth Reiser that is ringed with lights that turn on and off during his monologue. (They also smartly look broken when Daisey is talking about computer mess-ups.)
Daisey started work on his monologue some 16 months ago and he has taken it on the road, editing it as he goes. Jobs’ death, he says, is not how he or anyone wanted the story to end. But Daisey says that what he learned in China can now never be unlearned and that his audience has been infected with the knowledge.
“Steve made his choice,” says Daisey. “I wonder what you will choose.”