Mike Daisey wants you to know his monologues are still funny. If you saw The Ugly American (Daisey’s story of his college semester abroad studying acting in London) during last year’s festival, you’re familiar with his hilarious true-life stories that rely on his winning personality and expressive body language to tell the tale. So you might be surprised to hear that his upcoming Spoleto shows Monopoly! and Invincible Summer deal with, respectively, corporate rule and 9/11.
Daisey is a master at weaving the grand with the ordinary, the personal with the immeasurable, so that people can relate — almost without knowing it. The acknowledgment sneaks up on them. Just as the audience is laughing at some humiliating incident that happened to Daisey, he hits them with a larger issue of impact on life and society.
Monopoly!, for instance, tells the story of scientists Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison and their war for the standard of electricity — alternating or direct current. The monologue also deals with the Microsoft anti-trust lawsuit, which reminds Daisey of the Tesla-Edison battle — “A primal example of a war over standards.” Grounding all of this for the audience is Daisey’s narrative of Wal-Mart moving into his small Maine town — something pretty much everyone can relate to.
“Its effects on my town in Maine served as a flashpoint — on the weight of corporations in our minds,” he says. “I thought about Wal-Mart and then it all started coming together.”
Invincible Summer (which has been performed only once before, and we’ll get only a single performance here) juggles the threads of Daisey moving to New York and going through the transition of becoming a New Yorker, his parents divorcing at that same time, his Brooklyn neighborhood in the throes of post-9/11 trauma, and the history of the Manhattan Transit Authority. He sees the MTA, with its bureaucracy and corruption, as a metaphor for our own democracy — “something that seems impossible but it gets us where we need to go and gets the job done.”
Daisey lives in Carroll Gardens, a mostly Italian neighborhood near the Brooklyn Bridge. Because of the makeup of the neighborhood, he says, with many stockbrokers and firefighters, “we had about a person die on every block” in the attacks. His tells of how he (especially as a newcomer) and the rest of the neighborhood had to pull together. “It was very galvanizing, as in a chemical reaction that causes everything to change in an instant,” he says. In a parallel sense, his parents’ divorce reinforces that same sense of impermanence. “We think of parents as eternal,” he says, “and we discover that the world can change so quickly.”
“Once I start seeing patterns, that’s when I dig in and start doing research,” Daisey says. He likes finding “connections between disparate things.” He establishes smaller-scale stories, and an event becomes the lens through which a larger theme is viewed.
Fitting in seems to be a common theme in Daisey’s works — maybe that’s the very relatable essence that they share, the thing we can all find humor and comfort in.
He presents a theatre of ideas, which proved to be quite challenging when explaining the difference between alternating and direct current in Monopoly!. “The monologue is a great form for looking at momentum and energy in ideas,” he explains,” but a terrible form for trying to teach people how to build a Tesla coil.” The audience would need an instruction manual for that, and he wants to avoid pedantry. He faced a similar challenge with Invincible Summer, where the deep history of the MTA could get a little murky for some. But that’s one of Daisey’s talents — making every single thing he tells you riveting or fun … and often both.
MONOPOLY! and INVINCIBLE SUMMER • Spoleto Festival USA’s Solo Turns • $22 • MONOPOLY!: June 2-4 at 9 p.m.; June 5 at 7 p.m. • INVINCIBLE SUMMER: June 6 at 7 p.m. • 1 hour 30 min. • Emmett Robinson Theatre, Albert Simons Center, 54 St. Phillip St. • 579-3100 Keep the City Paper free We don't have a paywall. Each week's printed issue is free. We're local, independent and free. Let's keep it this way. Please consider a donation of $100 to keep the City Paper free. Donate: chscp.us
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