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picture - How Theater Failed AmericaTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published June 6, 2008


How Theater Failed America

now playing Off Broadway at the Barrow Street Theater

through June 22


It is so easy, at the end of a season, to forget all the good that you’ve experienced, because that old feeling returns in full force to remind you that everything meaningful has already been destroyed years ago, and what we are left with adds up to mere remnants of what could be. The theater is, after all, like everything else, different than it used to be, and, like everything else, compromised and dehumanized. And those of us who remain steadfast in our dedication to personal values, who continue to be in love despite the bruising wounds that accompany love, are always struck by how disinterested everyone around us seems to be about the same things that mean so much to us. But the memories of what we love, the memories of the work we’ve done that has kept us going, stay with us. And the possibilities that have yet to be explored will always be there. And hope, though more and more fitful with each passing year, still springs eternal.


And how wonderful that, at such a moment, a kindred spirit comes along, someone who reminds us that we are not alone, that we are not the only ones who take seriously the things we cherish, that we are not the only angry ones, and that we can actually have a few laughs – maybe a lot more than a few – about the whole damned process. Enter Mike Daisey, a monologist who has been amassing audiences over the years but who has been eluding me personally, until, thanks to the discovery of his newest piece, How Theater Failed America, the gentleman, in all his majestic sense of wonderment, and sitting at a plain black desk in a puddle of perspiration, has totally captured my heart, revived my aging spirit, and made me feel, despite the weariness in my bones, young again. And I can’t remember laughing so hard at any other event which took place within the four walls of a theater this season. If you see only one show for the rest of the summer, I would suggest that How Theater Failed America is that one show.


Daisey loves the theater the way we love democracy and is in a state of choleric outrage about what he calls the corporatization of theater which reflects our own increasing communal disenchantment with politics. You can’t help but love a guy who places democracy above politics; he captures the tone of our times perfectly. And the fun he has along the way with the eccentricities of the theater and the people who make “theater” is inspiring, replete as his observations are with a remarkable blend of wit, bile, and, believe it or not (oh, c’mon, believe it; this is the theater we’re talking about), a streak of sentimentality that is never indulgent or sloppy.


I remain hard pressed to describe exactly what it is that Daisey does so well, but I can  promise you that, whatever it is, it is extravagantly successful in making an audience scream with laughter, think a little, and feel pointedly remorseful at times. And actually his performance is best if you come to it unaware of what to expect. That is the happiest surprise of Mike Daisey’s vivid and vibrant world.


harveyperr @


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