Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mike Daisey - Monologist

You walk into one of the many stages at the Public Theatre to take your seat and the usher gives you a program and either a one, five, ten, twenty, fifty, or one hundred dollar bill. Very few people get a hundred, but quite a few get a twenty. Karen was given a twenty. I got a one. You look at the bills carefully and at first you think they must be very good counterfeit. But you can tell pretty quickly that they're genuine. Now your eye goes to the stage where there are many boxes arrayed, many of them with well known brand names stamped on their sides. You're wondering, like some version of the old TV program Let's Make a Deal, whether at some point in the show you will be trading your bill for the contents of one of the boxes. I only have a one, but I feel uncomfortable with it and can't quite figure out where to put it. I fold it and rest it on my knee as the show begins.

The show is Mike Daisey, storyteller. He sits at a desk with a glass of water, which he never touches, and launches into this long elaborate story about being on a remote South Sea Island. The main story is mildly interesting but the tangents are riveting, taking us from the financial crisis of 2008 to the meaning of life. He talks on and on but somehow keeps us engaged. There is no intermission and after over two hours he is just about finished.

He tells us that at least two things are true about what we have been through together listening to his story. That on the one hand he couldn't care less about us. He doesn't know us and will never get to know us. We don't matter to him. On the other hand, it is no less true that by telling us this long, involved story an indissolvable bond between us has been formed; we are inextricably linked. And he would have done anything, he insists, to have this chance to share his story with us.

Finally, he says that the money that has been distributed to us is his fee for recounting his story. He sets an empty bowl on the desk on the stage, right next to the glass of water that he didn't drink from, and adds that we can either keep the money we have been given or we can deposit it in the bowl. It is up to us. If we want to add a little, we can do that, too. And with that, he ends his presentation. We watch people tramping up to the stage to deposit the bills in the bowl. We do, too, all $21.00 of it. We stand with a number of other people on the stage and listen to him talk about himself, his work, and this dramatic conclusion. He says that most of the time people return virtually all the money. He rarely loses anything and sometimes even gains a little. With that, we turn to leave the stage. I reach into my wallet and put an extra $20 in the bowl. It seems to me he has earned it.

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