Theater review

Review: 'Think different' is clever message of Steve Jobs play

Contributing Theater CriticMay 11, 2012 

  • IF YOU GO

    'The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs'

    What: Actors Guild of Lexington's presentation of Mike Daisey's monologue, with supplemental material.

    When: 8 p.m. May 12, 18, 19; 2 p.m. May 12 and 19.

    Where: AGL's South Elkhorn Theatre, 4383 Old Harrodsburg Road

    Tickets: $20 adults, $15 students and senior adults; call 1-866-811-4111 or go to Actors-guild.com.

If you are reading this review on a laptop, iPad, smartphone or pretty much any other electronic device, it is likely that your machine came from a factory in Shenzhen, China, and was assembled by actual humans, humans who work 12-, 14-, 16-hour days before climbing a ladder of cots in a tiny concrete room to sleep in a space smaller than most coffins.

The dehumanizing labor conditions of these factories and the story of the human cost behind the tech industry's boom is the subject of Actors Guild of Lexington's final production in the 2011-12 season, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.

The one-man show stars AGL's artistic director, Eric Seale, as Mike Daisey, writer of the nearly two-hour monologue, which garnered international acclaim, and later, controversy.

Daisey's show was the epitome of success before Ira Glass of public radio's This American Life cornered him about embellishing some of the show's details for dramatic effect. Now, the show is one of the global theater community's biggest scandals and has inspired heated debate about truth versus facts, art versus journalism, and the duty of a storyteller.

Whatever your stance in the debate, the show's intended message deserves to be heard.

Part conscience-rattling revelation about the dark side of the digital age, part irreverent biography, the play dismantles the myth of Apple founder Steve Jobs as the great creator and replaces it with Steve Jobs, the genius tyrant.

Daisey weaves these two narrative strands with a third, his own story, and skillfully braids them together in a foul-mouthed mix of self-deprecating humor, stark and aching pathos, earnest reflection and direct appeals to empathy and activism.

Seale spends most of his stage career behind the scenes nowadays, so it is enjoyable to watch him flex his acting muscles as the show's sole performer. Under the direction of Lexington Children's Theatre's producing director Larry Snipes, Seale is particularly enjoyable in the show's emotional peaks and valleys.

In the show's early scenes, for instance, Seale describes his character's worship of Apple products and the domination of Jobs with a hyperbolic religiosity that elicited more than a few laughs from Thursday's opening-night audience while simultaneously framing the scale of the material.

Toward the play's finale, his transformation from naive consumer to accidental activist is palpable and, his character hopes, contagious. He sends the audience home with a task to be conscious of the human price of their technological conveniences and a plea to spread the word.

Cleverly co-opting an old Apple slogan, the phrase "Think different" splashes across a large monitor as Seale delivers his final message.

The screen is the focal point of Brian Sprague's sleek, minimalist set design. For most of the show, it simply displays the iconic Apple logo. Before the show, the screen delivered one of the more unusual and innovative curtain speeches I've seen. Seale appeared on the screen to explain the show's controversial backstory and to address how he and Snipes approached the material.

Since Daisey granted freedom to tinker with the show's material in his release of the rights to the show, portions of AGL's version have been altered to reflect Daisey's alleged inaccuracies.

The changes feel seamless and fluid and offer Lexington audiences a unique opportunity to see a thoughtfully wrought update of a theatrical work that is as compelling and contemporary as they come.

Candace Chaney is a Lexington writer.

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