Directed & Performed by Lance Baker
At the 16th Street Theater, Berwyn, IL
Blurry line between truth and entertainment obscures Daisey’s credibility
I left 16th Street Theater last night quite baffled because I witnessed a most engaging and theatrical production of a one-person show – The Agony And The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. Lance Baker, a surefire actor who has a special talent for presenting one-man shows, was at the top of his art in this perplexing show. Baker’s performance was exquisite as he deftly navigates through Mike Daisey’s controversial polemic.
The first part of Jobs is a funny take on the makings of a computer nerd complete with the history of Apple, the company and Steve Jobs, etc. The geek in all of us is hilariously presented. These was the best parts of the 90 minute one-act. I enjoyed this part but when the storytelling moved on to Mike Daisey’s investigative trip to China, the problems reared their ugly heads. It seems that Mike Daisey, while presenting his “story” mixed the truth (facts) with falsehoods, exaggerations and fiction. Daisey presents Jobs both as entertainment and factual despite his being called out by NPR’s Ira Glass for falsehood that led to cancellation of Daisey’s appearance at the Chicago Theatre in March, 2012.
In an article by Chicago Tribune theatre critic, Chris Jones, titled: “Pulling the plug on Mike Daisey:” When entertainment meets journalism” states”
“Suddenly, Daisey was hot. So hot, he was invited to do part of his piece on “This American Life,” the much-loved Ira Glass show that long had one foot in the Daisey world of passionate and personal storytelling, but another in fact-based journalism with the ethics of public radio.There was another reason “This American Life” wanted Daisey. “Agony and Ecstasy” wasn’t all opinion or personal memoir, like Daisey’s previous shows. In the piece, Daisey describes a research trip to Shenzhen, China, that involved him visiting the factories of the Apple subcontractor, Foxconn. He said he’d talked with workers (through his translator) and they’d told him tales of long hours, injury and dangerous chemicals in the workplace. As things turned out Friday, those allegations, while seemingly substantially true, did not pass muster with fact-checkers paying attention to things like names, precise chronology and the little matter of who said what to whom. Daisey defended himself by saying he had created an artistic work — suggesting that embellishments and composites were an accepted part of political theater.”
Now, after Daisey apologized for the above, the revised script of Jobs now called “ethically made” version that Lance Baker referred to as “airtight and fact-checked a piece of journalism as you are likely to ever hear spoken in theater.” Well, if that is the case, why, with a simple Google search, was I to easily find several falsehoods? The population of Shenzhen, China is NOT 14 million but 10,357,938 and a search of Foxconn (the Chinese factory making Apple products) reveals that 450.00 workers (estimated) work at Foxconn but they has 13 factories in nine Chinese cities plus factories in other countries. These are among many questionable items found in the piece. When artistic director Ann Filmer talks about having an “unredacted’ version of Jobs, she talks of three lights on Baker’s desk on stage – a green for no disputed text; yellow light and red lights for contested material. But, at the performance I witnessed, no lights were present. Filmer states that 95% of the time the green light would be on leaving 5% questionable facts.
My problem, is when you present a show as truthful, it moves from mere storytelling to documentary making the need for it to be 100% accurate. So when I find basic factual errors, I then question all the facts since I ‘m not sure when the line is broken. It sure seems that Daisey isn’t letting the facts get into the way of a good story. Where does storytelling become propaganda when an author plays fast and loose with the facts? He distorts the horrors by companies like Foxconn when he uses any exaggerations or falsehoods. This blurred line defuses the power of the story. Therefore, if you see Jobs, don’t blindly believe everything Daisey says. Artistically Lance Baker is fabulous; it’s the material that is questionable bringing into doubt the entire show. Is it propaganda or truth? Once a piece contains a falsehood, everything becomes suspect.
Editor’s Note: You might want to read the comments below, especially Mike Daisey’s attack against me.
Talk Theatre in Chicago Podcast
Date Reviewed: January11, 2013
For more info checkout The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs page at theatreinchicago.com
At the 16th Street Theatre, 6420 16th Street, Berwyn, IL, 708-795-6704, www.16thstreettheater.org, tickets $18, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, matinee at 5 pm on Saturdays, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, through February 9, 2013