Now that Mike Daisey has become such a polarizing figure, how can his critically acclaimed but scandal-tainted monologue The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs be presented to new audiences? The answer, according to Junesong Arts, is to take Mike Daisey out of the equation. He, (Steve Isaac), is still the narrator, but he’s got a whole cast of characters to balance him out. Having never seen either Daisey’s original monologue or his revised version—devised after word came out that this “non-fiction” piece was heavily fabricated—I can’t really analyze this production as an adaptation, but I can say that it succeeds wonderfully as an ensemble piece.
Isaac fulfills dual roles as Mike and the late Steve Jobs, or at least a comic book villain version of him. Both performances are distinct. His Jobs is that perfect kind of caricature—obviously exaggerated, but Isaac so closely gets his real mannerisms that it’s spooky. A real “visionary asshole,” as the chorus sings. The ensemble – Steve Isaac, Mikey Cafarelli, Emily Kester, Phil Dickerson, and Gillian Han, was strong all around, with Han and Kester standing out in particular as the Greek chorus narrators of Jobs’ life. They flirt with Jobs and at the same time judge him, representing the enlightened person’s moral dilemma when it comes to all their reliance on the ‘Cult of Mac.’ Han’s also great as Cathy, Mike’s interpreter when he visits the infamous Foxconn factory in China.
Oh, did I mention it’s also a musical? Timothy Gulliot has composed a pretty hummable pop-rock score to tell Daisey’s story. “The Steves,” which introduces a theme that reoccurred in the telling of the Steve Jobs legacy, was a particular earworm. Most of the satirical, upbeat Jobs-related numbers—“Geniuses and Bozos”, “Knife the Baby”—were stronger, melodically, than the Foxconn-related ballads, but thematically that made the most sense. It was hard to hear the lyrics sometimes, but that will surely improve in the future, given how well the sound was mixed for the most part.
As for other design elements, Kevin Faragher’s projections are almost a character themselves. Solomon HaileSelassie’s lighting design is simple and effective, with deep reds permeating the stage with each new unsettling revelation. All the numbers were well-staged by director Ronee Penoi, particularly Mike’s first visit to the factory, which is filled with a lot of tension just from one actor playing a guard, never coming to the foreground but always present.
“I could be making all this up,” Mike says in this production. And in the end, does it really matter? Good theatre is good theatre, and the emotional truth of the work holds strong.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: The Musical plays through July 28, 2013 at The Mountain at Mount Vernon United Methodist Church – 900 Massachusetts Ave NW, in Washington, DC. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe page.
2013 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs: The Musical’ by Meghan Long, Producer.