“The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” is now playing at the Woolly Mammoth Theater in D.C. The misnomer here is “Steve Jobs”. While he is a main thread through the entire evening, putting his name in the title is simply to get people into the seats. I would have enjoyed the show more, if I didn’t have the expectation or preconceived notion that this would be about the life of Steve Jobs.
Before I get too involved, let me explain the format of the performance…the creator and the performer are one in the same, Mike Daisey. The idea is that he, as the creator, has strung together and bunch of monologues that he, as the actor, will recite for the audience. The difference of his show and say, “The Vagina Monologues” is that he uses just an outline and free-forms his way through scene after scene. Whereas “The Vagina Monologues” uses a script from which the female performers read from. Both formats are acceptable practices, but with Mike’s, you get a freeness that like a good stand-up comic, if the evening isn’t going your way, you can deviate and swing it back around. There’s a reason that “The Vagina Monologues” uses a script…it’s because it has been audience tested, audience approved! Unlike a good stand-up comic, Mike did not read his audience and “fix” his deviation and bring it back around.
For some, the evening was a success and for some, it was not. If you have already read one of the biographies that is out there about the legendary Steve Jobs, than this may be a disappointing evening for you! There is very little of what the title promises. Without much research on Daisey beforehand, I expected the show to actually be about Steve Jobs and how his genius has made the word, according to some, a better place. This wasn’t the case. Even if you don’t think that Jobs made the world a better place, we can all admit that he will always be considered a genius and for good reason. How many other people can you name that have a brilliant concept, that bring that concept to fruition, get forced out, while it’s being torn apart, create another company (PIXAR) and then be begged back to the first company to save it’s ass, when the idiots that forced him out NEEDED help? Um…the answer is no one…you can’t really name one, besides Steve Jobs! But, I have just told you more about Steve Jobs, than the entire show does. This was my problem! If the title hadn’t suggested that the night would be all about Steve Jobs, I wouldn’t have had a lot of issues, but it did and the show didn’t teach me anything about Steve Jobs that I didn’t already know and I don’t even know a lot. I was very disappointed that when we got to the 12 years that Jobs was not with Apple, Inc., Daisey made it sound like Jobs was basically sitting around, which is completely not the case.
I understand poetic licence and this show has had it’s fair share of “issues” with the liberties that it takes, but it basically became a rant about how Foxconn is overworking people to the point of suicide, so that everyone can have easy-to-use devices that are made by hand. And there you have the message of the evening and I have just saved you money. He didn’t even mention the mass-suicides that were going on at Foxconn, which (I think) would have been far more shocking to the audience. The suicides became like an organized union of their own. All you need to do is Google “Steve Jobs” and “Foxconn” and you will get more information than the show gave and if you do that, you will also get some more current info than the show lent to the audience, which is another “problem”. Alright, so I understood quickly that this would be a night more about personal experience, not with Jobs, but Daisey’s trip to China, which allowed him to visit the outside of Foxconn and delve into what practices go on over in the Far East. My issue with this is that this practice goes on in every major manufacturing company over there and Daisey treated the topic of basic slave labor, as if Steve Jobs created it and preserved it by using Foxconn. Jobs was not the first to outsource to China, nor will he be the last. An important tidbit that should have been the close to the show is that Tim Cook (Jobs’ hand-picked successor) has been to Foxconn in the last few months and toured the enormous facility and some are speculating that changes maybe in the works. Daisey decided that his dream of changing the world died with Steve Jobs, so he ended the show, like that was the case. His idol, Jobs became the villain in this play, even though he wasn’t mentioned a ton. I more expected a real look at Jobs, the good and the bad and stories of his life that are lesser-known and can’t be found on page 1 of Google.
Aside from those let-downs, when I used the “stand-up comic” reference above, I meant that because it’s such a free-form performance, Daisey could have used his improv skills and his self-proclaimed attunement to his audience to guide the show in a better direction when he started to lose some people. The reason that he lost a portion of the audience was either because of the amount of cursing, which escalated to uncomfortable and unnecessary uses of the “F” word or because they were as miffed as I was at the lack of Steve Jobs info in the show!? Either way, there was a point where a lot of people were shifting in their seats and there were audible sighs. There were some shaking legs, and a lot of people starting to go out to the bathroom all around the same point in the show. Even the gentleman next to me kept nudging his wife to leave, saying he was ready to go, twenty minutes before the end. At the start of the show, the few curse words that were thrown out, had an impact because of how they were implemented, but at some later point, Daisey got comfortable and went a little overboard, whether he realized it or not, I don’t know, but there were audience members counting the curses! Don’t get me wrong the entire evening wasn’t a bust. I liked the show overall and would recommend this to someone who would look at it from a theatrical standpoint and not an informational one. Daisey’s delivery and timing are exquisite and I really enjoyed the performance aspect of the show. I would be interested to see another one of his many monologue shows, now that I know that they are just from his perspective.
I liked his level of performance and thought that I would like to see him in an actual scripted play, like “The Man Who Came to Dinner”, something where his timing could be utilized and appreciated. I also liked the venue for this type of show, although, others didn’t like that you could see the back wall and thought that for the money, we should have at least gotten a backdrop..lol. I didn’t really feel that way, but I can see what they meant. The point is not to distract from Daisey or from another perspective, it costs less to have the set that they do have or lack thereof! Woolly Mammoth is a black box theatre and this is what you get, besides some well-timed LED’s. I also liked that there was a Q and A after the show, with Daisey and his wife who is also the Director, Jean-Michelle Gregory. She said herself, that for this type of show, she acts more like an Editor, which made sense because usually a Director would block the scenes and give motivation for movement, but in this case Daisey sits in a chair the whole time and just uses his acting skills to keep it lively. He has a very good command of his voice, which I appreciated. There will be a special performance August 4th, just before the August 5th closeout to the run, where Steve Wozniak will join the Q and A, tickets start at $100. Considering this is as close as one might get to him, the price may be worth it, if you have a real question for Wozniak!
Overall Production: C, I am very disappointed in the title for what the show has to offer. I felt mislead! And $45 for a personal rant without all of the current information in a show that can easily be changed isn’t the best way to spend an evening.
Daisey’s Performance: B, I loved his delivery, although the cursing became too much and unnecessary.
Original Show Content: C-, If someone were to rent the rights and perform this at a community theatre, with a substandard actor, the material would not hold up. Without Daisey’s delivery the show could run very flat! Change the title or add some Steve Jobs info into the show, like how he created PIXAR and a million other things he did, during his 12 year hiatus from Apple, Inc.
Venue Experience: A, I think that Woolley Mammouth is a good setting for this type of show. Although, again the only reason it’s $45 is because it’s at the Woolly in D.C.