Play­ing the Trump Card

Mono­logu­ist Mike Daisey

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Mono­logu­ist MIKE DAISEY

“Over a year ago, be­fore Don­ald Trump de­clared his can­di­dacy, as ru­mors were swirling that he would run, it oc­curred to me that he sits very com­fort­ably in a uni­verse of peo­ple that I of­ten talk about. I cover a va­ri­ety of top­ics in my mono­logues, but one of my cen­tral mo­tifs for a long time has been mega­lo­ma­ni­a­cal men,” mono­logu­ist Mike Daisey told Pasatiempo. “Trump has been fa­mous al­most ex­clu­sively for be­ing rich since be­fore I was born. At the time I didn’t think he was go­ing any­where in the elec­tion, but I thought it would be an in­ter­est­ing anec­dote to use to wrap up his bi­og­ra­phy. As things went on, his can­di­dacy swal­lowed the piece, be­cause it had to, and then the elec­tion be­came the lens through which I look at Don­ald Trump.”

Daisey per­forms Trump Card at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Mon­day, Sept. 19. Asked where his fas­ci­na­tion with mega­lo­ma­ni­a­cal men comes from, he didn’t hes­i­tate. “It re­minds me of my­self. No one be­comes an in­de­pen­dent artist in the Amer­i­can theater with­out an el­e­ment of ge­nius or mad­ness in them. I’m not even func­tion­ing as a tra­di­tional play­wright; I make my own work. There are very few peo­ple do­ing that, and the very idea that one could re­quires a cer­tain speci­ficity of vi­sion.”

As he does in many of his pieces, Daisey weaves his own bi­og­ra­phy around that of his sub­ject, but there are fewer di­gres­sions and less per­sonal re­flec­tion in Trump Card than in some of his past work, mainly be­cause in­for­ma­tion from the cam­paign trail changes daily and Daisey has to stay on top of what Trumps says and does. The core of the piece, how­ever, is about Trump’s na­ture and char­ac­ter, which Daisey said do not change day to day. For those as­sum­ing

Trump Card ex­ists solely to re­in­force the opin­ions of those who would never vote for Trump, he plans to sub­vert those ex­pec­ta­tions. “If you’re at the theater, you’re prob­a­bly a white lib­eral per­son who is fairly wealthy. You’ll have to ex­am­ine your com­plic­ity in this sit­u­a­tion.”

Daisey’s oeu­vre in­cludes a 29-night live the­atri­cal novel, to­tal­ing 40 hours, called All the Faces of the

Moon, which ran at the Pub­lic Theater in New York City in 2013. He has a pod­cast called All Sto­ries Are

Fic­tion, and nu­mer­ous mono­logues on peo­ple who fas­ci­nate him, from Chelsea Man­ning to L. Ron Hub­bard to P.T. Bar­num. In Yes This Man (2014), Daisey talks at length about the need for fem­i­nism as well as his own in­her­ent sex­ism. (The ti­tle is in re­sponse to the so­cial me­dia hash­tag wars about street ha­rass­ment and rape cul­ture, #yesall­women and #no­tall­men.) In The Agony and Ec­stasy of Steve Jobs (2010), Daisey re­lays a story about a trip he took to China to visit fac­to­ries where work­ers make parts for Ap­ple prod­ucts. The mono­logue, in which he re­calls speak­ing with un­der­age work­ers, un­der­ground union or­ga­niz­ers, and a man who had be­come dis­abled from ex­po­sure to danger­ous chem­i­cals used to man­age dust in the fac­tory, was picked up by the pub­lic ra­dio show This

Amer­i­can Life, hosted by Ira Glass, in 2012. What hap­pened next opens up a philo­soph­i­cal di­vide be­tween art and jour­nal­ism. Two months af­ter run­ning Daisey’s mono­logue,

This Amer­i­can Life re­tracted the story be­cause sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of it were not true. The hard facts of the

story given as back­ground, in­clud­ing fac­tory con­di­tions doc­u­mented by Ap­ple’s own in­ter­nal re­ports, were sound. What came into ques­tion af­ter the story aired were Daisey’s per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences, and when a reporter spoke to the in­ter­preter who had vis­ited Chi­nese fac­to­ries with Daisey, the whole thing un­rav­eled. He was ac­cused of in­vent­ing char­ac­ters out of whole cloth and at­tribut­ing prob­lems at fac­to­ries he had never vis­ited to ones he had. Daisey wound up apol­o­giz­ing to Glass and his lis­ten­ers. He agreed that the piece did not live up to jour­nal­is­tic stan­dards and should never have been pre­sented as such on This Amer­i­can Life, but he con­tin­ued to de­fend the mono­logue based on his idea of the­atri­cal truth. He said this kind of truth uses the arcs of mem­oir and drama to tell a story and elicit an au­di­ence’s com­pas­sion for a sub­ject.

“I be­lieve that when I per­form it in a the­atri­cal con­text, in the theater, that when peo­ple hear the story in those terms, that we have dif­fer­ent lan­guages for what the truth means,” Daisey told Glass in an in­ter­view.

“I un­der­stand that you be­lieve that, but I think you’re kid­ding your­self in the way that nor­mal peo­ple go to see per­son talk — peo­ple take it as lit­eral truth,” Glass said.

“I be­lieve that all sto­ries are sub­jec­tive and it’s ac­tu­ally very dif­fi­cult to ex­tract any ob­jec­tive knowl­edge out of the soup of im­pres­sions that ev­ery hu­man be­ing brings to ev­ery story,” Daisey told Pasatiempo. “I have con­flicts with some of the things that are cen­tral to Amer­i­can jour­nal­ism’s idea of it­self. In­creas­ingly, as the world changes, it’s be­come clear that Amer­i­can jour­nal­ism isn’t un­bi­ased.”

If Daisey and Trump share a dis­dain for Amer­i­can jour­nal­ism and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the fab­u­list turn of mind, that is their slim tract of com­mon ground when it comes to ba­sic world­view. Daisey is a lib­eral. He doesn’t agree with Hil­lary Clin­ton on many pol­icy po­si­tions — “ex­cept for women’s rights, she’s ba­si­cally Rea­gan,” he said — but he’s in­trigued by her as a per­son and has no trou­ble see­ing her as pres­i­den­tial. “Obama did some fan­tas­tic things, but his pres­ence in the White House in­ten­si­fied the qual­ity of the right’s racism. We’re sign­ing up for an on­go­ing cul­ture war, be­cause it’s four to eight more years of it, just di­rected at a woman this time,” he said. “For peo­ple with re­ally re­gres­sive be­lief sys­tems about iden­tity, this must be a night­mare. They must be ter­ri­fied. I feel like that dic­tates a lot of who Clin­ton is. She’s bat­tle-hard­ened and sort of se­cre­tive, and that makes sense. It’s not sur­pris­ing that she doesn’t trust eas­ily.”

He went on to ex­pound on the gen­dered na­ture of pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, which forces the pub­lic to judge Clin­ton’s charisma, or lack thereof, based on a his­tory of ex­clu­sively male can­di­dates. “I don’t know if we’re weigh­ing her prop­erly. It’s clear that the peo­ple who have worked with her and know her well have tremen­dous loy­alty to her. If she wins, I’m look­ing for­ward to get­ting to know her bet­ter, even though I find it dis­turb­ing that she’s even more hawk­ish than Obama about for­eign pol­icy. I’m re­ally con­cerned that in the next four to eight years we’ll be drawn into an­other war. I don’t see a way out of it be­cause — not to tip my hand, but as I talk about in the show — I re­ally see this as a choice be­tween a flawed, hu­man can­di­date and the gate­way to the apoca­lypse. One side means we get up in the morn­ing and the other side means the sky is rain­ing blood. When you’re given that choice, you take the hu­man over the end of the world.”

NO ONE BE­COMES AN IN­DE­PEN­DENT ARTIST IN THE AMER­I­CAN THEATER WITH­OUT AN EL­E­MENT OF GE­NIUS OR MAD­NESS IN THEM. — MIKE DAISEY

Mike Daisey’s prop Trump pro­jec­tion; top, Daisey

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