REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

By Mike Daiseystevejobs-lg

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.

Tom Williams

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago Podcast

Date Reviewed: January11, 2013

For more info checkout The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs page at

At the 16th Street Theatre, 6420 16th Street, Berwyn, IL,  708-795-6704,, 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

19 thoughts on “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

  • I’ve responded to the accusations in this piece of criticism, and pointed out how they are unfounded here.

  • Yes, I can refute him–more later after I do more research….stand by

  • It seems that Daisey likes to call me what he is: “I’m kidding a bit, but let’s be clear: Mr. Williams is lying.

    He doesn’t have a list of “more questionable” items. He just wants to make sure he’s puffed up his position, and he doesn’t expect anyone to respond, so he’s saying shit.

    Lying because i dispute Dasiey stating that Shenzhen has 14million people–maybe I’m wrong (which I doubt) but lying – really?

    I do have other other questionable items, but let me use just one -an item that was apparently in the original Daisey script and was used in the performance I attended at 16th Street Theatre on January 11, 2013: we hear about a man with a mangled hand was injured at Foxconn making iPads – is that true, Mike? Several sources including Ira Glass don’t thin so. Didn’t others claim that the story about the man with the mangled hand was a falsehood? My point is, that if you present a show as truthful, then any major falsehoods bring into suspicion all your stories. That is my point. I don’t lie – I only observe and report what I see and hear. You brought this on yourself by trying too hard to make your case against Apple. As always, I anticipate and welcome comments and responses to my reviews. Remember, you chose to present a polemic, not me. I simply question some of your content.
    Tom Williams

  • I stand by my assertion—I don’t believe when you wrote the piece that you had a list of “more questionable” items. I think you’re bullshitting. I was clear about why I said it, and it had nothing to do with Shenzhen’s population.

    As for the scene you are describing, it’s actually simple to check this—the transcript of the show is, of course, publicly available from my site. The direct link is here. There’s no man being injured making iPads at Foxconn.

  • If you look at the end of my review, I have already posted a link to your 2.0 script.
    And, on page 61 at the top, your script reads: “I talked to an older worker with leathery skin. His right hand is twisted up, it was maimed in somewhat machinery. He says he didn’t receive any medical attention.and it healed this way and when he went back to work, he was too slow, and they fired him.

    Today he works at a wood-working plant. he said he likes it better. He says the people are nicer and the hours are more reasonable. He works about seventy hours a week.”

    Sound familiar?

  • I’m beginning to think this is a joke.

    Yes, the section you are quoting is from the 2.0 version. But as I pointed out, there’s no mention of iPads or of Foxconn. If you review anything from the TAL retraction, you’ll know that the fact that I met a worker with a damaged hand was never in dispute—what was in dispute was where he had worked. The revised version does not assert where he worked, or what he does in that work.

    So, to summarize: you’re suspicious of a population number, which I have explained to you, and which satisfied NPR and the rest of the universe. You had issues with other numbers where you didn’t seem to understand what number it was I was talking about.

    And now your big reveal is that the “more questionable” thing you were holding back about sounds really bad…except that nothing you’ve complained about was in the show.

    Are you finished now?

  • It seems that you are splitting hairs but I’m finished with this dialogue. We’ll let the public decide about your show. When someone has been found to distort the truth, everything they say is subject to scrutiny. You show, to be, is propaganda. And that is no joke. Enough.

  • Thanks for seeing the show Mr. Williams, and for the kind words.

    I think Mr Daisey addressed most of the concerns, I would just like to stick up for my friend Ann Filmer and say that her program note pretty clearly states there will be no red-yellow-green light setup in the staging Mr Williams saw at 16th Street– she’s referencing a previous version of the show I performed three times (Den Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, UW Madison) after This American Life’s “Retraction” episode. But now that Daisey’s revised version is here, that gimmick is gone and the script is performed nearly verbatim.

    I also would like to stick up for Mr Daisey and say his critique pretty clearly states that when you wrote that you knew of more “questionable items” that you didn’t bring up in the piece, you were lying. And when Mr Daisey accused you of this, you said you would refute him after you did “more research.” Not the best way to demonstrate you’ve already got the facts on your side.

    Lastly, I am performing Daisey’s updated, “2.0” version of the piece, and I never say the word “iPad” in the story of the worker with the mangled hand. This eliminates all previous criticism about the anecdote.

    I am as surprised as Mr Daisey that Mr Williams had the confidence to attempt to refute the facts in the latest version of this monologue, one of the most intensely-scrutinized pieces of theatrical writing ever. What did he make of seeing the live version of “Santaland Diaries,” which presents itself as a piece of nonfiction just as much as “Steve Jobs.” As Mr Williams writes, “when you present a show as truthful, it moves from mere storytelling to documentary, making the need for it to be 100% accurate.” If this truly qualifies as a “need”, what of Sedaris’ tale? Which, like Daisey’s tale, uses narratives of personal experiences to expose the seedy underbelly of a beloved multinational corporation?

  • So, having been unable to back up your asssertions, you flee. It probably would have been better to just say you didn’t like the show, without trying to get holier-than-thou.

  • i am amazed that you would be so unprofessional as to call me a liar. i may be wrong but I’m no lair. So i guess that whenever someone is wrong about an assertion or possibly mistaken about something, therefore they are a liar? Really. In this context, they only person who has been accused of being a liar is Mike Daisey but not by me. For you Mr.Baker to call me a liar is so wrong. One can debate about issues but to call someone a “liar’ is serious an unethical. To be a liar is to purposefully attempt to state a falsehood. When I made my statements, there was no attempt on my part to lie, I was only reporting things I found on a Google search. I may be wrong but I never lied. There is a difference and you should know better. I have now lost respect for you.

  • Mr. Baker and Mr Daisey need to know that calling someone a “liar’ can be defamation and surly it is unethical. For each of you to call me that is amazing and it speaks to your lack of class.

  • Lance Baker

    A pattern is emerging here, it seems, but here we go….

    I’m sorry you took offense at my post, TW, but a careful reading will show that I did not technically call you a liar– Mr Daisey did. But since you misunderstood his reason why (not the issue of the population of Shenzhen, but your claim of having knowledge of further “questionable items”). I was, as with all my comments, merely attempting to clarify everyone’s points in the hopes of furthering the discussion. I failed, obviously, but this whole page has been a bit of a trainwreck from the very first, and so I’ll leave it at that. Please do not judge future productions I am a part of because of our disagreement– rather, you may feel free to ignore me with impunity.

    Good luck,

  • We’ll left this rest and on re-reading your comments, you didn’t call me a liar but you were referring to Daisey calling me that.You’d be advised to stay away from that guy.

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  • Herman Kane

    Hi Tom,

    I was curious, what were the other “questionable items”? If you’re going to slam Mike Daisey for the work as it now stands – gone through with a fine-tooth comb by some amazing journalists – it would be nice if you could back it up. Really.

    Population of Shenzhen – 10,357,938? Thank goodness for your keen detective skills. Wikipedia’s number must be right after all. Ira Glass really missed that one. Oops! A baby was just born. Oops! Three people died in a car crash. I’ll put money on the fact that your number was wrong on January 11th, 2013 – the date of your review because if you go back and look at the footnote in the Wikipedia article, it says the date the number was pulled from the municipal records on July 28th, 2011, but municipal records can be years old and the population of cities like Shenzhen have been increasing rapidly (anywhere between 14 and 23 times from 1980-2001 depending on the source of your numbers – Holy cow! I think that’s fact checking.

    You said: “When someone has been found to distort the truth, everything they say is subject to scrutiny.” Sure, scrutiny is fair, but deliberately misconstruing the text of the play to try and score points paints your review in a bad light. And it looks like you did just that.

    Thank goodness I generally ignore reviews like yours, or I’d have missed an amazing show.

  • You must like propaganda shows.

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