Review ALL THE FACES OF THE MOON Takes Daisey Full Circle
Mike Daisey is performing a new monologue at Joe's Pub. Actually he's performing 29 new monologues. And this review is based on two of them that you're no longer able to see. That is, unless he decides to give more month-long performances of All The Faces Of The Moon.
On the surface, his new work looks pretty much the same as any other evening with the famed and fascinating monologist known for combining journalism and storytelling into fictional accounts covering factual issues. Directed, as always, by Jean-Michele Gregory, the large man of large gestures sits at a table in front of a microphone, a glass of water at one hand and his notes, from which he speaks extemporaneously, at the other.
He plays his own voice and body the way a seasoned violinist plays a Stradivarius, interpreting what's on paper with expert transitions from broad spectacle to tender subtlety.
But while Daisey is perhaps most known for investigating global matters such as third world economics, the American government's interpretation of the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan and, most famously, the inhumane working conditionals at the Chinese factories that produce Apple products, All The Faces Of The Moon comes off more as a verbal memoir centered on his personal relationship with New York City. At least, that's what I can tell you judging from the first two performances.
Having begun on September 5th and following a complete lunar cycle that will conclude on October 3rd, Daisey's program notes promise that each evening's 75-minute monologue will stand on its own while also being connected by "characters, plot, themes, images, motifs and dreams." While there may be some who chose to attend every night, free podcasts of each monologue are available at this link. A third collaborator on the project, Larissa Tokmakova, has created 29 theme-illuminating oil paintings, one displayed on stage each evening.
It was a bit jarring during the second night's performance, titled "The Fool Who Walks Through Walls," to hear the on-stage narrator actually refer to himself as Mike Daisey. I'm sure that's the first time I've heard him do so, and while it may seem like a trivial point, never identifying himself always seemed to provide a license to freely mix fact and fiction. But there can be no doubt that this is indeed a fictionalized version of himself as he began his initial chapter, "Playing The Hand You're Dealt," telling how he spent the afternoon leading up to that evening's performance.
It all started with a stroll down St. Marks Place, which he described as "a Disneyland of filth."
"It was never actually filthy. Instead, it signifies filth... Nothing really bad is going to happen to you on that one block of St. Marks but you might end up with a bong or you might get a tattoo."
A segue into his annoyance at seeing food tours interrupting his mornings at the local coffee shop near his Carroll Gardens home soon took us back to St. Marks, where a run-in with that mechanical fortune teller on the corner of Second Avenue inspired to visit a live storefront gypsy.
With no real dramatic arc in sight, some may have been lulled into believing they were attending a rather raucous evening of seated stand-up comedy, until the crowd was hushed with an admission so personal and suggesting such vulnerability that the rest of the evening took on an entirely different tone.
The same happened the second night, which began with a description of a soon-to-close former massage parlor turned performance space called Happy Endings and the theory that you can tell whether or not a performance can be considered high art based on whether or not people in the audience are eating calamari.
His criticism of some types of New York audiences led him to discuss a project at Manhattan Theatre Club, where "their particular audience base is dead."
But the mood mellowed when he spoke of being reintroduced to a man he once knew who had undergone a sex change operation and he was now given the gift of meeting this person again as a woman and having him meet him again as a her.
"You can sense what gender does."
Whether or not the 29 pieces of All The Faces Of The Moon successfully coalesce into a fully satisfying dramatic work remains to be seen, but even in these incomplete sections that seem to leave you hanging at every curtain call, Mike Daisey is certainly an attention-grabbing and entertaining story-teller.
And at the very least, an hour or so with Daisey is certainly good for some high art belly laughs.