CAMBRIDGE -- You'll hear talk about the "electricity" of a night in the theater: the charge you can feel in the air, the deep yet crackling silence that occurs when a performance and an audience truly connect. Mike Daisey wants to generate that kind of electricity, and he does. But he also wants to make the metaphor real -- to charge people up with enough energy to change the world.
That's a tricky ambition to talk about without sounding pretentious, and Daisey may push a little too far when he makes it explicit at the end of his remarkable monologue, "Monopoly! Tesla, Edison,
Or at least that's how he began on Tuesday night; tonight or tomorrow it might be different, because "Monopoly!," the second of three Daisey monologues presented by the American Repertory Theatre at Zero Arrow, like all his work has no fixed script. On Tuesday that meant it ran over two hours, rather than the 80 minutes the ushers had announced, with no intermission. But (except for a minute or two near the end, when I started to wonder if his hatred of endings was going to keep him talking for the rest of the night) I never looked at my watch.
It's hard to convey the power of Daisey's work through simple description. (It's also hard, apparently, to avoid metaphors like "power" and "energy" when talking about it.) In a way he's not even really theatrical; he's just a guy, talking. He tells great stories, he's funny and angry and smart and obscene, but some people come away wondering why they didn't just go to a bar and listen to the liveliest guy there.
Well, for one thing, that guy probably isn't quite as sharp as Daisey. More important, he probably isn't as concerned with weaving his funny or sad or crazy stories into a larger whole, with taking the fascinating detritus of daily life and world history and rubbing together bits of it until they send off sparks. It's not the stories that make theater; it's the storyteller -- and, even more, it's the storyteller's ability to fill the shared air of a theatrical space with the intangible but very real . . . energy of his art.
Oh, look, just go. Listen to Daisey talk about playing Monopoly as a kid, remember your own rainy afternoons wrangling with your brother over whether he'd counted the money correctly, relax into the apparently wandering but actually quite purposeful tale about the fight between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla over alternating vs. direct current, visit Daisey's hometown Wal-Mart with his underpaid sister, laugh at his almost incredible story about acting with Bill Gates in a Microsoft industrial film, and see what happens.
See how Daisey just goes along, telling these stories, pausing now and then to let a particular punch line or metaphor or conclusion sink in. Then see how, without your quite noticing at first, the stories start to come together, creating links from one to another that set both in a new light. Feel the charge that builds in the air. And then remember how an electrifying night in the theater can give you a buzz that lasts for days.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com.