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picture - If You See Something Say SomethingTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published November 7, 2008


If You See Something Say Something

now playing Off Broadway at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater

through November 30


Monologist Mike Daisey is a kindred spirit, gentle and slightly impish, wide-eyed and direct in his gaze, conspiratorial in his relationship with us. And then, without notice, he becomes, like so many of us in these troubled and troubling times, seriously unhinged. His eyes narrow, his voice cracks and screeches up an octave or two, and our common angst comes bubbling out of his mouth. And, whether he is being matter-of-fact or doubling over with rage, he is one of the funniest men you are apt to encounter in a theater space these days.


In his neatly structured, beautifully calibrated new monologue, If You See Something Say Something, under the intelligent guidance of his director Jean-Michele Gregory (the space he’s using these days, after a tour that has clearly worked out most of the kinks, is Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater), Daisey weaves a tapestry about the absurdity of national security – both pre- and post-9/11 – that includes, in its long, strange journey, a road trip to Trinity (the home of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos); the sad and frightening story of Sam Cohen, the man who invented the neutron bomb; the fear-mongering progress of Homeland Security; and how it feels to be robbed in Rome minutes after arriving in The Eternal City. If the last mentioned event seems out of place, you’ve got to see – and hear – the artful way he incorporates it into the story he tells so brilliantly. And, of course, the telling of it is uproarious.


It is encouraging to know, or to re-discover, through someone like Mike Daisey, that the source of so much of our anger contains, within it, liberating laughter. And yet, for one audience member at least, the sobering and horrifying tragedy of Sam Cohen lingers longest in the memory. The image of Cohen – who grew up in Brooklyn, locked in battle with a mother (who is no less disturbing because she’s probably pretty much your average Jewish mother) – meticulously creating a weapon that could destroy exactly who you want to be destroyed within a circumscribed area, is humor at its most Grand Guignol-esque.  And Daisey does dare say the unsayable; that, post-November 4, “if you think things are going to change, you’re a fool” (let’s hope he’s wrong about that one).


The critical community indulges in a habit that is worrisome; it seems bent on comparing one artist to another. This may be meant as praise of a sort. But it has a peculiar tinge to it: the originals always seem to win out. (It reminds me of a story I once heard of James Dean complaining to Lee Strasberg that, in so many reviews, he was being compared to Marlon Brando, to which Strasberg asked if he would rather be compared to John Derek.)

So, once and for all, comparing Daisey to Spalding Gray will now please cease immediately. Daisey is very much his own man, who just happens to sit at a table with a glass of water at his side. You may also have heard – this reviewer has mentioned it – that Daisey sweats a lot. Well, he does, and you might consider it a testament to his humanity that he works himself up to such a froth that he is forever having to mop his worried brow.


Oh, yes, If You See Something Say Something could also lose ten minutes. But when you’re getting such a rich, disturbing and verbally dazzling amount of information to think about – and laugh about – long after you’ve left the theater, why quibble over ten minutes?


harveyperr @


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