A theatrical review: “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”

Originally posted on gdgt on February 10th, 2011.

Last night, we ventured across the bay to check out a play by Mike Daisey at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. It was a 120 minute one-man extemporaneous show about the history of Apple and a look at the people who build the gadgets that we love.

Judging by the title (and with recent events relating to Job’s recent health), you might think this is a show taking a deeper look into the life and times of Mr. Jobs. This would turn out to be an incorrect assumption. Daisey’s performance is an insightful, an often hilarious tale of the two Apples under Steve Jobs and John Scully. “Steve is not a micro-manager — he’s a fucking nano-manager!” Daisey switches between this and taking a serious look into what goes on behind the scenes at “all factories” in Shenzhen, China.

Daisey is the perfect epitome of an Apple fanboy, calling himself a devout follower of the Apple religion and perfectly describes what it’s like to own an Apple product. For those of us who are equally under the influence, it makes him easy to relate to. (That said, I don’t think you need to be a fan of Apple to enjoy this show.)

This sets up his story for a perfect transition from faithful believer, to wavering skeptic. “One day,” says Daisy, “I began to do something that all religions fear — I began to think.” Daisey goes on to explain that it all started because of a post he read on an Apple news site (Daisey says, “Have you ever noticed there’s no such thing as an Apple news site? The only thing they talk about are rumors.”). The post was about an owner of a new iPhone finding a series of pictures from the factory in the camera roll of their phone. A few of the images even showed factory workers in their cleanroom jumpsuits. This changed everything for Daisey. Until that point, he had never thought about the actual people who made his gadgets.

Side note: I think this may be the post that Daisey speaks of.

Daisey ends up traveling to Shenzhen, China and poses as an American businessman. He shares some of the things he saw; from factories with tens of thousands of people working on assembly lines in complete silence, to young teenagers who spoke to him about their work days (12, 14, or 16 hours).

Throughout the entire performance, Daisey is switching between the seriousness of what he saw in Shenzhen and his light hearted story of Apple’s history. In the mid-1990’s, Daisey explains, “Apple needed Jesus Fucking Christ to save them. So, they got the next best thing and brought Jobs back.”

If you’re a fan of gadgets and technology, I think you’d get a kick out of this show. It’s an interesting look into Apple and makes you consider the consequences of using the gadgets we love. Daisey explains that while it’s shameful nearly all companies turn a blind eye to this sort of behavior, the onus is on us as consumers to let these companies know we won’t stand for it.

Fortunately, Daisey’s humor and stories make the show quite entertaining, and you never really feel like you’re being lectured at. That said, I definitely felt bad about using my gadgets afterward (I arrived at the show carrying my bag containing a MBP, iPad, and iPhone — all of which were made in Shenzhen). You leave the theater with a heavy heart.

“The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” is performing at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre until February 27th, 2011. Ticket prices range anywhere from $45 – $75 dollars.

Show info: www.berkeleyrep.org­/index.asp

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