Mike Daisey performed his latest monologue to 22 masked and vaccinated theatergoers in person Friday night at the 99-seat Kraine Theater in the East Village, and simultaneously to another 500 watching online.
Some treated this as a momentous occasion, because it was one of three theatrical productions launching on the first day that New York’s governor had allowed theaters to reopen at 33 percent capacity. Whether or not momentous, Daisey’s new monologue, a meandering account of his personal experiences over the past year, was undeniably of the moment.
Like the rest of us, Mike Daisey has not had a normal year; the clue is the curse word in the title. He apologizes for it, but it also injects an apt tone of bafflement and upset. There is less of the certainty and focus that threaded through most of the monologues I’ve seen of his in the past, starting with “21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com” at the Cherry Lane Theater in 2002, about his career at Amazon, and most recently “The Trump Card” at Joe’s Pub in 2016.
In “What The Fuck Just Happened?” he tells us, for example, that he spent a lot of time crying in his new car. “I had not anticipated this would be the big advantage of the car.” He also started having a hard time just hearing the sound of sirens, because there were so many in the early days of the pandemic. But it wasn’t just the virus that derailed him . His “deepest depression” of the year occurred after Election Day, because Trump wouldn’t concede.
His candid disclosures come in the context of ninety disparate minutes of involved anecdotes and elaborate riffs, alternating between finding the humor, expressing the sorrow, and unearthing the outrage.
He explains how much he was looking forward to 2020, because 2019 was so terrible for him; he was plagued with bedbugs, as well as doubts about his career. He recalls the early days of the pandemic, when he and his girlfriend Morgan Gould drove cross country from the Humana Festival in Kentucky, dousing themselves in hand sanitizer and stopping constantly to shop at “random Walmarts across the heartland of America” for fear that everything is running out.
The pandemic was in part so “devastating” to him as a New Yorker because the point of living here is to eat in “ridiculous restaurants” and now he had to clear the stuff out of his oven and start cooking.
After seven years of dating but living separately, Morgan moved into Daisey’s one-room apartment in Brooklyn, which resulted in Daisey spending most of his time on the roof (and explains why he went to his car to cry). He is like a cross between a bear and a squid, he (sort of) explains; she a chicken and a bull – which means “a lot of personality in a very small space.”
He describes how he came to join his neighbors in making noise with pots and pans for frontline workers, but that this ended with the Black Lives Matter protests, because there was no way to make clear that he was clacking his pots just for the nurses and the doctors, not the police.
The virus recedes in his narrative as he talks about phone banking with a group called Misfits For Democracy, where “everybody was devoted to the idea of helping get Joe Biden elected, but nobody liked Joe Biden.” He’s at his most pointed when talking about the January 6th insurrection, arguing that was scarier than the event itself than the reaction to it, which “reveals the weaknesses of the system” – how, for example, Liz Cheney speaking out against Trump’s responsibility for the storming of the Capitol “marked” her, and “purged” her. “That’s how fascism happens”
“What The Fuck Just Happened?” — was scheduled only for that one in-person performance, and will remain online only until tonight – was in part an excuse for Daisey to discourse on two of his favorite topics: the intriguing nature of theater as an art form and the stupidity of the American theater industry.
He correctly points out that he was an “early adaptor” of new technology bringing theater to more people. (In 2013, for example, he presented his 29-episode monologue “All The Faces Of The Moon,” both on stage at Joe’s Pub and as a podcast.) He long “begged American theater” to make streaming a common practice, but “American theater responded ‘no we don’t want anyone to know what’s going on in here, otherwise we could not continue to charge a tremendous amount of money for work; we can never tell them what is going on, we must never tell them. We just want rich people to come.
“All it takes is a little plague,” Mike Daisey observes, “and the next thing you know ‘we’re very excited about streaming. We all have to stream’”