Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Blurt: The Seven Days Staff Blog: Mike Daisey Returns to the Stage in Burlington:

One defense Daisey has offered is that his work comes across differently in the context of journalism. This turned out to be true. The excerpt of "Agony and Ecstasy" featured on "This American Life" was a small part of Daisey's monologue. If you listen to his story about visiting China, it does sound like "journalism." But in the 90-minute-plus theatrical monologue, it's a slice of a larger work with multiple storylines — some more journalistic than others — that intertwine throughout the show.

Exaggeration happens in other parts of the piece, too — unless American business execs really do talk like Chewbacca and tech journalists really do derive sexual pleasure from Apple keynotes. (Maybe those aren't too farfetched.) But these moments of exaggeration and embellishment happen in the context of comedy, where they're excusable and perhaps necessary. But not when you're tugging your audience's heartstrings.

Those other parts of the show also endear Daisey to the audience — at least to those of us who attend as geeks and not necessarily as theater lovers. Who hasn't freaked over an Apple event that effectively relegates one of our devices to the annals of history? Or rushed out to buy a new-and-improved thing even when we're not quite sure what the improvement is? Daisey's work has been praised for exposing the conditions in overseas factories, but this part of the show seems equally important. The cycle of upgrades, trade-ins and new releases is our reality — and it's hard to see past it when you're in it. The tech blogs don't address it, not when there's a mockup of a new iPhone to speculate over.

Daisey's monologue is art, and memoir. It may not be journalism, yet it exposes truths in its own way.