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The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

Mike Daisey's superb solo performance is given added resonance by the recent death of the visionary Apple founder.

By New York City
Mike Daisey in
The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
(© Joan Marcus)
Mike Daisey in
The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
(© Joan Marcus)
The recent death of Apple founder Steve Jobs lends an added resonance to Mike Daisey's solo performance, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, now at the Public Theater. But even without that, Daisey's superb storytelling ability coupled with a fascinating and complex subject would make this show a must-see experience.

There are three primary narratives that are threaded throughout the performance. The first is Daisey's own obsession with computers, the second is a capsule biography of Steve Jobs and his work with Apple, and the third is the story of Daisey's trip to Shenzhen, China, where he witnesses firsthand the appalling child labor conditions that make possible the mass production of the technological devices that we rely upon so heavily.

In addition, Daisey expounds upon the central metaphor suggested by his show's title to discuss Apple as a kind of religion, with its followers and devotees. Jobs is at the center of said religion, but whether or not he is a Savior or other kind of god-figure is up for debate.

Daisey possesses a remarkable expressiveness that can make even minor details within his tales seem hilarious. For example, the sound he produces while imitating a dot matrix printer has the audience doubled over with laughter.

Later, he describes the makeshift business cards he created while posing as a businessman to gain access to the factories in Shenzhen. He hesitates just enough to indicate how embarrassing the poor quality of the cards was for him, and again causes guffaws to spread throughout the theater.

However, entertainment is only part of Daisey's goals for this show. The piece also serves as a call to action, which is emphasized by the distribution of leaflets following the performance that describe some next steps audience members can take to follow up on what they have learned within the performance. Yes, it's a little preachy, but since it feeds back into the central metaphor of religion, it also works.

In a similar vein, there is a kind of reverence to the way Daisey talks about Steve Jobs, including in a poignant section towards the end of the show wherein he describes what he did on the night Jobs died. Daisey readily acknowledges Jobs as a visionary and genius; but his hero-worship only goes so far, and is coupled with a sense of grand disillusionment.


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