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The Last Cargo Cult written and performed by Mike Daisey – Off Broadway Theater Review




picture - the last cargo cult Theater Review

by Cindy Pierre

published December 13, 2009


The Last Cargo Cult

now playing at the Public Theater

through December 13

touring Chicago, Atlanta, and other cities through May 9, 2010


With the economic recession not showing signs of petering out anytime soon, holiday shopping has an extra layer of stress this year.  And for those that spend their nights gazing at CNN, the burgeoning national deficit is also on their minds. Everyone with a pulse seems to be consumed with money, and artists like Mike Daisey are no exception.  In his hilarious The Last Cargo Cult, Daisey probes the collapse of the American economy with a different lens, a no-frills brand wrought from a recent visit he made to a poor, America-worshipping, South Pacific island.  And with a laughter-to-thought ratio of one to one, besides being entertained, you may just seek to pad your mind instead of your pockets.


While Daisey encourages you to measure both the excess and dearth in your life, Peter Ksander engages in the same task with his set.  Rather than remind us of the erupting volcanoes that are prevalent on this island, the great wall of cargo boxes that comprise the scenic design looks more like another natural disaster waiting to happen: an avalanche.  It feels a bit like walking into a UPS store at first, but Ksander takes a simple concept from the show and exploits it to make the visuals as imposing as what being surrounded by American zealots on an exotic island must be. 


Daisey's opinions about American values and priorities are strong, but because he is seated for the entire monologue, his delivery of it is a little too easy to take. Under Jean-Michele Gregory's direction, Daisey's sit-down comedy is as sharp and as original as it comes, but his lack of mobility mutes the theatricality.  There's so much performance and physicality from the waist up that you long to see him engaged in full-blown physical comedy.  Clocking in at 90 minutes, this political show—penis sheaths notwithstanding—runs too long for its singular concept.  Nonetheless, with keen observation, statistics and storytelling, Daisey captures your interest and maintains it. 


The Last Cargo Cult may not be the first show to tackle the subject of the money god, and in a world that has always served the almighty dollar, it’s not likely to be the final one.  But with Mike Daisey's humor and linguistic skills at the helm, it gets explored in a biting and insightful way that makes it feels like a brand new subject. 


cindypierre @


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