Theatre Review: ‘The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’ at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Mike Daisey. Photo by Stan Barouh.

There is no question that Mike Daisey is one of the best monologists working today. Daisey’s presentation style is quite basic but done up big. In other words Daisey sits at a table and embodies his characters. Simple enough approach until you realize that Daisey is big in size and talent and must look real interesting in a Hawaiian shirt as he discusses in his return engagement of The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

Daisey paints the recently deceased Steve Jobs, who was the past chairman of Apple as a man driven by ambition and a will for perfection and efficiency. It is for this reason that a lot of people did not like working for this man. Say what you will about Jobs, the man was a genius.

There is a story about Jobs and Steve Wozniak working on a job for Atari. Wozniak was a encoding genius who Daisey says lived on the soft drink, Mountain Dew. Jobs told Wozniak that Atari wanted the memory for a game to fit certain space parameters. Wozniak came in under the number that Jobs had said was requested. Wozniak later found out that Atari had never asked for a space restriction. It was Jobs just trying to be as efficient as possible.

Mike Daisey has everything he needs to put this show over.

The show also brings up stories of the horrible labor conditions at Foxconn, which is a company in China that makes many of the Apple products. You will learn that people kill themselves at least once a week from working 36 hrs straight as well as other horrific events.

Mike Daisey. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Much has been made of the fact that Daisey fabricated certain things in the original version of this show that played at Woolly Mammoth in 2011. To those people that have been complaining, I say that theatre is meant to entertain as well as educate; so if Daisey chooses to invent or stretch the truth for dramatic effect, he should not be crucified for it. Maybe this show isn’t totally factual, but who cares!

Mike Daisey has everything he needs to put this show over. He has great characterizations, a likeable personality, and a very engaging story. It would be very easy for this kind of a show to become self-indulgent but, with the guidance of Daisey’s long time collaborator and director Jean-Michele Gregory, it doesn’t.

The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is an important piece of theatre. It has a lot to say about overseas working conditions and also tells the story of a man who was one of the most brilliant in the computer industry. The show also gives us a chance to watch a really fine storyteller in action. Mike Daisey is a rare breed of performer whose work is always engaging and always leaves you talking about it afterwards. That my friends, is what good theatre is all about.

Running Time: One hour and 55 minutes with no intermission.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is playing at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St, NW in Washington, DC through August 5, 2012. For tickets, call the box office at 202-393-3939 or purchase them online.