updated 09:00 pm EDT, Wed March 21, 2012
Amended show still has support of debut venue
The Woolley Mammoth theater in Washington DC that premiered Mike Daisey's monologue-driven show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs has issued an apology to its patrons while simultaneously confirming that a planned run of the show will go ahead this summer. The theatre says it now regrets calling the piece "a work of nonfiction" in light of admissions by Daisey that several incidents and claims are fabricated.
In a long post about the incident, theater founders Howard Shalwitz and Jeff Herrmann both express disappointment with the admissions of fabrications, but staunchly defend Daisey's right to mislead audiences without disclaimers about specific incidents in the show that are now known to be untrue by Daisey's own admission. While reminding readers that the "essential truth" of the monologue is to create attention around the issues of both worker conditions in Chinese factories as well as the willingness of consumers to ignore such problems in favor of cheap electronics, they acknowledge that "nothing excuses [Daisey's] deception of Ira Glass and This American Life."
For now, they plan to bring the play (and Daisey) back this summer for another run, and in the meantime will host a discussion with patrons about the previous run and the aftermath of Daisey's behavior and subsequent admissions. The blog post (and a previous entry that supported Daisey prior to the retraction episode of This American Life being aired) attracted scathing criticism from unusually eloquent and analytical writers, most of whom as patrons of the theatre urged the directors to re-think their position and disassociate themselves with the show. Many suggested that the theatre offer refunds to viewers of the previous performances who feel deceived in light of new revalations.
A point seemingly overlooked by the theatre is that the controversy over the show -- which has been performed innumerable times in various cities since its debut a year and a half ago -- came not from claims made within the actual theatrical performance, but from Daisey's insistence that specific details now known to have been invented were true when asked about them on various news and news analysis shows, not just This American Life. Daisey and others have often raised -- without much success -- the defense that things said in the context of a play cannot always be taken at face value.
While it's true that the very nature of theatre demands facade, dramatic license and emotional invention in the name of imparting a greater level of understanding and truth, Daisey only ran into trouble when claims he specifically presented as the truth outside of the show were fact-checked. He has since said that the show will be modified to stick more closely to his actual eyewitness accounts, but Daisey still insists that he witnessed atrocities such as mangled and underage workers that his translator and other witnesses deny occurred.
The theatre company maintains that playwrights and performers (and plays themselves) should not be held to journalistic standards, and that Daisey's essential message -- which was to shine a light on abuses in China before the media picked up on the story -- remains unchanged in its importance. The show is set to run from July 17th to August 5th. [via Seattle Post-Intelligencer]