Manbites Dog Theater is doing it again: currently they are presenting a very fresh production of a recent stage work that is so timely that you realize that, yes–these artists are prescient. Maybe especially the playwright and monologist Mike Daisey (two of whose solo works you may have seen at PlayMakers Rep in 2009 and 2014), who has written an excoriating piece about Donald Trump and the rest of us–and put it up on his website for anyone to use. This is open license theatre.
Just as open license software may be altered by the end user, the work may be adapted, without further permissions, by the presenter. In Durham, it has been taken in hand by director Jeff Storer, who undoubtedly has gentled it from Daisey’s more threatening style of delivery. Actor Carl Martin, who has done a lot of vividly memorable work on area stages, and who has a slight physical resemblance to Trump, dominates the viewer’s consciousness completely during the 83 minute disquisition on many matters Trumpian.
Martin does not portray Trump, but discusses him, his meaning and how the hell we got here in America with this creature running amok. Daisey as a storyteller is always armed with long verbal knives, and in this typically Daiseyian, seamless looping thoughtstream analysis studded with punctuating oddities, pretty much everybody gets the rough side of Daisey’s tongue, including those in attendance at the theater. Terms like bitter humor, and mordant laughter come to mind–certainly one will laugh, but the laughter will come easier if one doesn’t mind being shamed by the man on stage.
Although the production is billed as a staged reading, it is quite a polished performance. Martin sits at a large table under bright light, with a stack of script pages on one side, an iPad propped upright before him, and two bottles of water–very like a newscaster set-up. He does not read from the pages, instead moving sections to his other side as he completes them, and using the iPad as a teleprompter. But he barely needs it–on the second night he had most of the long speech memorized, so he could pin the audience on his rapier gaze. Storer’s direction is extremely deft, reinforcing Daisey’s message and stealthily dismantling our barriers to it–not just to the facts about Donald Trump, which we may preen ourselves on already knowing, but to knowledge of our complicity in this “kristallnacht-y” situation.
I am sick of Trump; you are probably sick of Trump. Yet I recommend this show unreservedly for its trenchant analysis and channeled outrage. Some may find the language too rough, but it suits the topic.