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The Trump Card Review: Mike Daisey’s newest monologue

Mike Daisey has put a script of “The Trump Card,” his latest monologue, on his blog to encourage people to perform it without seeking his permission or paying royalties.

I saw Daisey perform the monologue in a one-night-only performance on a recent Sunday at Joe’s Pub. He has also performed it in Washington D.C., and written an article entitled “The Theatre of Trump,” for American Theatre Magazine, for which he got made up as Donald Trump:

mikedaisey-as-trump

6/24/16 Photograph © T Charles Erickson

This is not how he appeared in his monologue. He looked the way he always does:

Mike Daisey portrait.jpg

This is, in another words, another Mike Daisey monologue. There are a few moments in “The Trump Card” when Mike Daisey impersonates Donald Trump, to spot-on comic effect. He describes Trump’s mostly silent demeanor as host of “The Apprentice” as that of a “dyspeptic toad,” and then demonstrates with a hilarious facial expression. And then, a couple of times, Daisey mimics the presidential candidate’s smarmy babbling when he introduces another outrageously offensive conspiracy theory but tries not to take responsibility for it:

“I think the President works with Muslim extremists. I mean, by ‘I think,’ I mean ‘people are saying.’ I mean, I don’t want to think it, but it’s just happening. You know how people say things. What are you going to do? It’s terrible, let’s not talk about it, but I said it…”

Daisey says at the outset that his aim in the monologue is not to flay Trump for the audience’s pleasure. But this claim seems hollow, especially when Daisey himself takes such obvious pleasure in name-calling — calling Trump at various times an “orange gremlin,” an “orange goblin,” a “free-floating aneurysm.”

The timing of “The Trump Card,” and his generous push to get it widely read and performed, might suggest that a civic-minded Daisey wishes to contribute to the public debate as the election nears. It seems clearer, though, that the timing is more about Daisey the showman taking advantage of the moment.

Yes, Daisey presents some damning information. He tells stories about the two men he says most shaped Donald Trump. The first was Trump’s father Fred, a developer who was such a racist that he inspired Trump tenant Woody Guthrie to write several songs denouncing him (Google the lyrics for “Old Man Trump.”) The second was Roy Cohn, who had developed the strategy of lying as counselor to (eventually) disgraced red-baiter Senator Joseph McCarthy, and who became Donald Trump’s attorney.

Daisey also offers his take on the rise of Trump — blaming it on such phenomena as the Republican’s “Southern strategy” initiated by Nixon; the Democratic indifference to the anger and suffering of working class whites; the “Fuck it” mentality of  Americans that would lead to the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s vice-presidential running mate without her being truly vetted. Above all, though, he seems to give credit to Trump’s skills as a performer:

“…he is very good at his job. I tell you, all I have to do is turn off the parts of my brain that have ethics and morals, and I admire the fucking shit out of this guy. Because I understand him because he and I are both performers, and we work with the same toolset. I understand him in a way that I’m not sure that many people other than me do. And so, that’s the reason I started this” — the reason why he created “The Trump Card.”

 

This focus on performance is key. Mike Daisey is no Michael Moore, although there are superficial similarities. In films like “Roger and Me,” “Sicko,” and “Bowling for Columbine,” Moore uses humor to cite facts and expose flaws in American society. He no doubt identifies as a filmmaker (and a humorist), but it’s safe to assume he views his filmmaking as the medium for political advocacy.  Daisey sees himself as a theater artist, first and foremost; it was his defense when “This American Life” host Ira Glass accused Daisey of falsifying the facts in his visit to Apple’s operations in China in Daisey’s monologue “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.”

”I am an artist—that is to say a professional liar,” Daisey says in “The Trump Card,” and one can detect a certain defensive tone in this declaration, as if still smarting four years after his public humiliation. It’s a tone that colors the new monologue. He is in effect asking his audience to consider “The Trump Card” as entertainment, not reliable civic discourse.

So, he tells us of a party he held to play “Trump: the Game,” which he describes as “essentially Monopoly for dogs,” a party at which he served Trump Steaks and Trump Water.  This party takes a turn toward the surreal when he eventually informs us that the guests included Fred Trump and Roy Cohn, both deceased. Was the entire “Trump The Game” party, then, a fantasy constructed for the monologue rather than an actual party?

And then there is the odd undercurrent throughout “The Trump Card” of accusation against the audience — that we are wealthy, leftist elitists who are somehow responsible for Trump. I wondered whether Daisey was giving us a taste  of the class- (and race-) based resentment that is at the heart of the billionaire’s appeal to his supporters. My main question was whether Daisey was doing this consciously or subconsciously.

There is little that struck me as politically useful or reliably insightful in “The Trump Card.”  Yes, the Trump phenomenon is an exercise in weirdness, but, as Daisey acknowledges, it’s a weirdness we’ve been subjected to every day for months. What exactly does Daisey add to it?   I suspect, however, the script will get a lot of downloads, and theaters will produce it.  “… I’ve had inquiries from a dozen theaters so far,” Daisey writes on his website. “And AGONY/ECSTASY, which I released the same way, has had almost 200 productions (that I know of) all over the world.”  The Trump brand may help sell “The Trump Card,” but the most memorable story in Daisey’s latest monologue has nothing to do with Trump.  Daisey tells us in compelling detail how as a child he ate all the M&M’s he had been given to sell for a school fundraiser.  It’s quintessential Daisey, the kind of personal story that makes his monologues worth watching.

 

 

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About 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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