The monologist opens Monopoly!
Fortunately for Mike Daisey, Bill Gates is on the other coast and Thomas Edison and Sam Walton are dead. So no one arose to douse the monologist when he opened his corporate-bashing Monopoly! Tuesday night at Zero Arrow Theatre, where it plays through May 5. As anyone who’s visited MikeDaisey.com in the past two weeks is aware, a group of 87 young California choristers and their irate chaperones, offended by the writer/performer’s use of the f-word (which is a favorite), walked out on Daisey’s Invincible Summer April 19, with one anger-challenged adult stopping to pour water all over the outline from which Daisey, who eschews a polished script, works. By contrast, the Monopoly! opening was a moisture-free event – unless you count the sweat Daisey, daubing himself with a black handkerchief, works up over the mega-corporations that wag us.
It’s too bad Invincible Summer monopolized Daisey’s residency at American Repertory Theatre because, for my Monopoly money, this is a far better monologue, hardly impersonal but devoid of self-indulgence as Daisey, never leaving his post behind the table, swings like Tarzan between threads of interconnected story that encompass the methodical Edison’s slap down with visionary immigrant Nikola Tesla over direct versus alternating electrical current; Daisey’s own losing battle to get a 500-pound “lightning-throwing death machine” known as a Tesla Coil into this very monologue; the gravitational power of Bill Gates’s wealth; the dubious history of the Parker Brothers board game of the title; and the merchandising takeover of the monologist’s nondescript (well, sucking) small Maine hometown by Wal-Mart. As Daisey points out, monopoly the game can be endless; likewise corporate proliferation and greed. Human beings, by contrast, are finite – the game of life eventually bangs up against that “black gate” manned by the Reaper. You do not get to pass go or collect $200.
Okay, we’re on message here. But Monopoly!, though it went on for an hour and 50 minutes opening night (after ushers informed every incoming spectator that the intermissionless show lasted an hour and 20 minutes; must be that no-script thing), is laugh-out-loud hilarious. And when, with judicious infrequency, the performer drops his elastic-faced and gesticulating persona to identify with his impoverished Maine relations, it’s fiercely touching. In Invincible Summer, Daisey seems less a performer than an expressive guy coming at you – with material that doesn’t quite earn the soubriquet of a “conversation” in which Daisey does “most of the speaking.” In Monopoly!, the monologist conjures not only the much-missed Spalding Gray but also, with his round face, bushy knitted brow, and bemused outrage, a younger, hipper Andy Rooney. And I mean that as a compliment; Rooney must at one time have had something to say.
, Bill Gates, Thomas Edison, Sam Walton, More