All The Faces of the Moon: Mike Daisey and the Art of Meandering

MikeDaiseyThe man they sat us next to at the 13th episode of Mike Daisey’s 29-part theater piece All The Faces of The Moon had caught all 12 of the previous monologues, and was apparently planning to catch all 29. Actually, to be accurate, he had listened to the first 12 on the free podcasts on Mike Daisey’s website, each posted the day after it is performed. The 13th, entitled “That Hideous Strength,” was the first the man, an actor, was seeing in person at Joe’s Pub in the New York Public Theater.

I had listened to the very first episode, entitled “Playing the Hand You’re Dealt. ”  The entire piece is supposed to be about the secret history of New York, but that first episode seemed to meander. An excerpt from Daisey’s own summary of that monologue on his website — “Red Hook and the Disneyification of New York, Al Capone’s wedding, Tony Kushner’s early promise, the rise of the Small Man, the importance of bed in all narratives” – seems more focused than the actual experience of listening to that hour-long episode. It was certainly far less focused than the last monologue of Daisey’s that I had attended, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which I had loved with a passion (later cooled by the revelation that some of what he was clearly presenting as fact hadn’t actually happened.) I have always liked Daisey’s work, since his first monologue a dozen years ago, “21 Dog Years: Doing Time @,” about his experience as an Amazon employee. I long have found him innovative, and very funny. I am also impressed with how  entrepreneurial he is as a theater artist: He is offering all sorts of incentives to get people into Joe’s Pub – a free tarot card every time you attend, a poster if you go to three, a private dinner with him if you see all 29. (Full list below)

13-Strength“For you this is a singular experience. To me, this is my 13th opening night in a row,” Daisey said near the beginning of That Hideous Strength, arms stretched out, dressed all in black, with a trim black beard. Next to him was a new painting – one of the 29 that Larissa Tokmakova is creating specifically for the show, a new one for each monologue. This one looked like an angry nun looming over a roaring lion.

Daisey spent the first 10 minutes or so talking about the philosophical implications of this show that he was doing.  I started to drift.

I thought of Johnny Carson, who was host of the Tonight Show for 30 years. Yes, near the end there he wasn’t appearing every weekday, and he probably always had weekends off, but he came up with maybe 6,000 monologues without anyone thinking of him as a cutting-edge artist.

I returned my attention to the stage to hear Daisey say: “To be a monologist, you can’t be a reasonable person….”

I thought about my having tried to read Crime and Punishment three times but always stopping when he murders the old woman. I have always felt guilty about this. But I don’t feel guilty about watching  just a single episode of a TV show and deciding it’s not for me – and keeping to my decision even if it becomes a cult favorite that everybody is talking about.

Then I remembered that I had actually seen a theatrical adaptation of the Dostoyevski novel somewhere in Westchester, done in Polish (with simultaneous English translation), and I had watched it all the way through.  The impulse that got me on the train to Westchester is the same that got me to Joe’s Pub.  Call it theater and I’m there.

Mike Daisey was saying “… I was almost semi-demi-famous…I got the weirdest offers.” He told a funny story about being asked to speak about the environmental problems in China, something he knew nothing about.

I began thinking about the longest known filibuster in modern history: In 1977, a Texas Senator named Bill Meier spoke against a bill that he said would erode the state’s open records laws. He was reportedly on his feet for 43 hours. This led to thoughts of the Jane Fonda movie about the Depression-era marathon dancing, “They Shoot Horses Don’t They.”

It was late, I was tired, the waiters at Joe’s Pub kept on whizzing by in ways that I found distracting; it wouldn’t be fair to blame Mike Daisey for my drifting.  But then I heard him say “all bankers are vampires” and start telling a long story about a man named Nick and vampires; certain sentences jumped out at me: “Training is like sex; the more experienced you are the better you are, but the less you feel.”….”I miss killing Nazis.”   A memory suddenly flashed of my trying to listen to a man on the subway who was ranting to himself; I remembered marveling that I could not figure out what he was saying, although he was using English words and forming grammatically correct sentences.

Daisey stopped telling his story about the vampires, and riffed in a humorous way about Peter Lugar’s, which he said has great steaks, “marbled with fat, just like me.” It was one of the few mentions of anything connected to New York City, secret history or otherwise.

When the 80-minute monologue was over, the actor sitting at our table looked happy. It’s all part of one story, he explained; I really had to follow the entire series.  You mean there’s MORE about vampire bankers?

Sept 5 – Playing the Hand You’re Dealt
Sept 6 – The Fool Who Walks Through Walls
Sept 7 – The Magician and the Fish
Sept 8 – She’s the High Priestess to You, Jack
Sept 9 – Mercury Is a Messenger Who Will Not Wait
Sept 10 – The Empress Holds Her Cards Close
Sept 11 – The Naked Emperor Is Still Laughing
Sept 12 – Venus Is a Star Who Gets What She Wants
Sept 13 – The Hierophant Plays It Loose
Sept 14 – The Lovers Struggle To Take What They Want
Sept 15 – Your Chariot Awaits, My Sweet
Sept 16 – Mars Is a Soldier Whose Hands Are Red
Sept 17 – That Hideous Strength
Sept 18 – The Hermit Stands at the Turn of the River
Sept 19 – This Is How We Make Our Fortune
Sept 20 – Our Justice Runs on a Tilted Table
Sept 21 – Jupiter Is a King Who Never Came Back
Sept 22 – A Hanged Man Knows How To Bluff
Sept 23 – The Untitled
Sept 24 – Temperance Under the Gun
Sept 25 – The Devil Always Plays to a Draw
Sept 26 – Paying the Rent in the Tower of Song
Sept 27 – Saturn Is a Father Devouring His Children
Sept 28 – If You Wish Upon a Star You Will Regret It
Sept 29 – The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
Sept 30 – The Sun Is a Blind and Burning Thing
Oct 1 – A Flaw in Your Judgment
Oct 2 – The World Is More Than We Will Ever Know
Oct 3 – Last Call

See 3: Limited edition poster featuring images of all 29 paintings onstage in each of the 29 monologues.
See 7: Limited edition print of your choice of 1 of the 29 paintings onstage in each of the 29 monologues, plus all gifts for lower levels.
See 10: Framed, limited edition poster featuring images of all 29 paintings, signed by Mike Daisey and Larissa Tokmakova, plus individual prints of all 29 pieces, plus all gifts for lower levels.
See 15: Special printed book containing images of all 29 paintings with a description of each piece, plus selected scans of the notes Mike Daisey used to create All the Faces of the Moon, plus all gifts for lower levels.
See 22: Special invitation to the closing night cocktail party, plus a special cameo appearance consisting of a delightful and brief interview with Mike Daisey onstage during one of his monologues, plus all gifts for lower levels.
See 29: Special private/group dinner with Mike Daisey, Jean-Michele Gregory, and Larissa Tokmakova in The Library at The Public, plus all gifts for lower levels.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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