Mike Daisey is a keen cultural observer with a ruthless streak. In "American Utopias," the neo-Spalding Gray's latest monologue, Daisey even takes on the "It's a Small World" ride at Walt Disney World. "It looks like a 1950s game show threw up on itself," ," he observes, puckishly. Next time I'm there, I won't be able to get that out of my mind. Daisey's little takedowns have a certain stickiness to them. So does the performer.
This latest work of Daisey's (presented by the
The Occupy material, though, is more problematic. For starters, Daisey did not actually go to Zuccotti Park before the protest was removed by the authorities. He spins that deftly into a segment on liberal guilt, but that lack of first-person reportage still gnaws away at this piece, which offers such a close experiential comparison of those other two experiences. The other issue bedeviling this long monologue at this juncture (it's a new work) is that Daisey never, for me, adequately explores the question of why we go to these so-called "American Utopias," or even what that term really means. The stuff on Disney's manipulations is astute — there is a superb sequence wherein Daisey discusses how much Disney advertising is there to make you feel like you are running out of time to take your growing kids to the happiest place on earth. The material on Burning Man's weird juxtaposition of the outlandish and the, well, geeky-sweet is similarly rich. But throw in the Occupy issues and Daisey's own relationship with all this, and you come to the conclusion that there is much work still to be done here.
And one other, other note. Daisey is, of course, recovering from a scandal surrounding the fictionalized elements of a previous show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of
So. The show needs some cuts, should explicate its compelling broader themes more quickly and address them more directly, and would be better if it stuck to a chronology in which we can believe. But there's much of interest here for Daisey fans (and the Burning Man-curious). I especially liked hearing about his New Jersey family of Disney fans, all who love to throw big house parties. At those moments, Daisey comes the closest I've ever seen him come to expressing love.
When: Through Nov. 11
Where: Museum of Contemporary Art Stage, 220 E. Chicago Ave.
Running time: 2 hours