Sunday, March 02, 2008

a man & a table & a glass of water

All of my prejudices traveled with me on the night I went to see Mike Daisey perform his monologue "How Theater Failed America." But I wasn’t concerned. My prejudices fit nicely into a miniscule leopard-print handbag. If I wear matching shoes, no one notices.

How startling, then, as I sat there in the darkened theater, to hear Mike Daisey speak directly to me and describe all the contents of my swanky handbag with deadly accuracy! What the hell was this conjuring act?

Then I heard someone I knew, in the row behind me, whisper to her friend that Daisey can create a world on stage with just himself, a table, and a glass of water. I realized I wasn't alone but sitting among dozens of other people, many of them artists I knew and loved. Daisey's talent includes the ability to make it seem that you are alone with him, on a fogbound road in Maine, and he is telling a story just for you, about a different night, long ago, on a fogbound road…

The story is everything in Daisey's work. He is a master storyteller, a lover of the tale both tall and short. Although politics inform his work, he doesn’t sacrifice a good story for the sake of the political or the sentimental, an agenda or an effect.

Today this is a minor miracle. Over the past seven years, many of us who made a habit of keeping our political views in the voting booth have been forced by outrage and conscience to step up and speak out. Or shriek out. Mike Daisey speaks, but in a voice more subtle and nuanced than most, and with a mind to what is essentially human in every situation, at every moment in history.

This is why his stories strike such deep chords and resonate for such a long time. They may contain political truths, but first and foremost they contain human truths. There has never been a time in this society when we needed to hear these truths more.

Without such art we have nothing upon which to project our deepest, inexpressible, perhaps unspeakable nature, and nothing against which to measure and disarm it. In the absence of art, the ever-present but suppressed turmoil of human life goes unaddressed and becomes toxic. You can hide it in a leopard-print handbag, but you can't make it go away. Only the words of a real artist can do that.

At a time when the shared or common experience is not openly held in high esteem, here is a real artist who recognizes the public hunger to know that we are all made of the same stuff, and that although some of that stuff is completely insane, it isn't all bad.

No comments: