“If you want to enjoy a good steak, don’t visit the slaughterhouse,” says an American proverb quoted in the Playbill for “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.”
In his superb one-man show at New York’s Public Theater, Mike Daisey dispenses discomfort, particularly to Apple Inc. shareholders and iPad and iPhone devotees, with his description of dehumanizing factory conditions.
He also does an uncanny impression of a dot matrix printer.
A large man who embodies the physical humor of Chris Farley and the muckraking of Ida Tarbell, Daisey tells two stories that intertwine.
There’s the rise and tribulations of Apple co-founder Jobs, which Daisey recounts while describing his lifelong “geekish” Apple obsessiveness.
And Daisey gives a play-by-play of his trip to Shenzhen in southern China, where he posed as a businessman to tour a mammoth Foxconn Technology Group facility that constructs Apple products. That’s the place with the spate of worker suicides last year.
While Daisey isn’t the first Westerner to visit and talk to Chinese workers, his descriptions are memorable. The city “looked like ‘Blade Runner’ threw up on itself.” Breathing the air felt “like a booted foot on your chest.”
He said he met employees as young as 12 years old. He met others in their 20s whose hands had devolved into claws, their joints disintegrated after years of 12-hour-plus days.
“It’s like carpal tunnel on a level we’ve never seen,” he said, describing the pressure on the nerve in the wrist that supplies feeling and movement to parts of the hand.
(On its website, Apple says it’s committed to the “highest standards of social responsibility” and describes its efforts to improve conditions in a 2011 report on “Apple Supplier Responsibility.”)
Daisey has performed the show sitting behind tables around the country, including at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre earlier this year. Its arrival in New York weeks after Jobs’s death is coincidental. In a handout after the performance, Daisey accuses every major electronics manufacturer of inhumane labor practices and suggests that theatergoers press Apple for change because it’s an industry leader.
At nearly two hours it could be trimmed: his funny riff about the absurdity of power point presentations belabors the point.
But the show may cause you to think differently about i-gadgets.
At 425 Lafayette St. Information: http://www.publictheater.org, or +1-212-967-7555. Rating ****
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(Philip Boroff is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)