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REVIEW: Mike Daisey 'lied like the truth' in Iowa City

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UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:55 pm   ::  

Hancher's three day presentation of monologist Mike Daisey began as the blizzard began.áTheáMabie Theatre at the University of Iowa, with both audience and performer on stage, provided the peformance with the requisite intimacy. The darkness of the auditorium, behind Daisey, loomed effectively throughout the evening.

Daisey -- a large man, with remarkably expressive hands and arms that provide both clarity and emphasis to his stories -- sat at table for two hours, and talked non-stop the entire time. This guy is sensitive, sharp, well-spoken.

Daisey, with the directorial help of his wife, Jean-Michele Gregory, has been putting together one-man shows for 15 years, about one a year. His visit to Iowa City continues through Saturday.

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Daisey is best known for his broadcast on NPR with Ira Glass' "This American Life," based on the Foxconn factory in Shenzen, which assembles Apple products. This program proved wildly controversial, as it was revealed that Daisey had stretched the truth. He became an infamous, overnight sensation, with 888,000 hits on the web. Apple, after all, is a big deal. Steve Jobs is a revered figure in contemporary life. The report on the conditions of the employees at Foxconn was shocking.

The disclaimer in the program reads as follows: "The management wishes to remind you that this is a true story, and just like every story being told in every medium, all stories are fiction." If you can accept this approach, the evening will entertain you. Just don't expect it to be the truth. Daisey is superb in his deceptions. He is a most perceptive observer of the disturbing inanities that make up our lives, and of the disconnects that are so pervasive. Daisey regularly indulges, as Shakespeare wrote in "Macbeth," in "lies like truth."

In Daisey's defense, even though he may have embellished his sympathy for the employees at Foxconn, his report had an international impact. He served as a whistle-blower to the brutal Dickensian conditions, proved be an ongoing embarassment to Apple, and to employee practice in Chinese factories.

The current performance is titled "American Utopias." He centers on Disney World, the Burning Man Festival, and the Occupy Movement in New York City. His interweaving of these three "utopias" is successful, though the two hour, non-stop onslaught of words was too much for me. The attention of the audience was complete, however, and you could have heard a pin drop for the entire time. Nobody moved or coughed. Nobody left.

Daisey is very funny. His description of Disney theme parks as heaven on earth, as the ultimate destination for families and their children, is hilarious. The branding of Disney World as the "happiest place on earth" is incessantly programmed into us while still in the womb, and proceeds non-stop throughout life. It reminds me of the song "Orlando," in the hit musical "The Book of Mormon," in which a young Mormon missionary sings ecstatically of his desired destination.

I enjoyed his description of academic life, given the setting of the performance, as people who devote their entire lives to minutiae: the scholar who devotes his life to the study of the avocado, or more importantly, to the skin of the avocado, is right on.

His riff on the large animals with "pedophile hands" at Disney World is also quite funny. The giant mouse who rushes to hug your children is best watched closely. Disney is not only determined to win you over, but to conquer you completely. His conclusion is that Disney World is a bogus, overwrought phenomenon.

The evening ends with a knockout. Daisey invites the audience to follow him outside the theatre, in order to hear "the rest of the story." Standing on a box, in the middle of a snowstorm, the audience huddled around him. He suggests that an assembled group, listening to fascinating stories, is the way forword. The steps of Mabie Theatre became Hyde Park in London. The Occupy Movement was given a renewed, loving appreciation.

The peformance continues through Saturday evening. If this irreverent, often bawdy, always perceptive, way too long evening appeals to you, please check it out. The quality of the barrage of words, and the stunning, quirky level of perception that drives them, is finally the point. This is a rare evening for the "state" of Iowa ... another "utopia?"