Friday, January 14, 2011
"Mike Daisey: The Last Cargo Cult": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG baub
The lights come halfway up on Mike Daisey, a heavy-set man sitting behind a wooden desk, glass of water to his right, hand towel folded in back of the glass, a few sheets of yellow paper in front of him. He inhales, places his palms gently on the desk, then the lights come up and Daisey goes ballistic. He yells, screams, rants, f-bombs, wipes acculmulated sweat off his face with his towel, looks right, looks left. He is infuriated. He is humiliated. He is terrified. He is out of patience. And then Part One is over.
He folds over one piece of yellow paper and glances at the one underneath it. He takes a deep breath and starts screaming again. This is Part Two.
Seven Parts and two full hours later we have heard about the islands of Vanuatu and Manhattan, a cargo cult religion called John Frum, a volcano, problems with where to send your kids to school, the way his wife drives and the way our culture values our "awesome shit" -- that is, our cargo. We have heard about fermented yam paste, and the history of America. MOST OF ALL we have listened to a man rant about money. Money causes nothing but grief but everyone wants more. Mike Daisey wants more. This seems to be at the heart of his schtick. He needs more awesome shit.
He sits in front of a massive row of accumulated gift boxes, from every major retailer, except they are all empty, which appears to be an apt metaphor. If the box is empty, you need to go buy another box with something in it.
It's hard to like Mike Daisey, the character, but this is his choice. He works hard at keeping the viewer at arm's length. Warm and fuzzy he's not. But you have to love Mike Daisey, the actor. He is fascinating. And hard working. And if you don't mind being screamed at, or hearing the f-bomb used so much it loses all meaning, or if you can find truth in his simplistic view of economics ("everything in your culture has a price but nothing has any value") -- you may find a kindred spirit in "The Last Cargo Cult."
The show is very strong but, for us, could use editing. Two hours is a very long time to watch a young man schvitzing behind a desk. At an hour and a half this may be a brilliant show. At two hours you are, more than anything else, astonished that the performer can expend this much energy every night.
They do interesting things with lighting the boxes, and there are a few musical cues here and there, but "The Last Cargo Cult" is all about Mike Daisey, period. His performance takes your breath away, and his too.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG baub
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Mike Daisey: The Last Cargo Cult" three stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE and a bauble of despair. The BANGLE is for his description of IKEA ("their boxes warm our hearts like their meatballs warm our stomachs"). And we agree with his definition of money as 'liquid power.'
The bauble is an easy one to fix. The show is currently too long. In our opinion the natural ending is at the volcano. But that's just one idea. Take away one or two yellow pieces of paper and "The Last Cargo Cult" would knock us over the head with its power, rather than scream us into submission.
Mike Daisey: "The Last Cargo Cult"
Berkeley Rep, Thrust Stage
2025 Addison Street, Berkeley
In repertory, through February 27.
$34-$73, many discounts available