Manbites Dog Plays The Trump Card


Carl Martin in The Trump Card, adapted from the monologue by Mike Daisey. Photo: Manbites Dog Theater.


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.

Limited dates through Nov. 7. Tickets here: You can download the script here.



Romancing the Firearm: Mike Daisey premieres THE STORY OF THE GUN at PRC2

In his latest one-man show, a rare commissioned work for PlayMakers Repertory Company’s PRC2 series, monologist Mike Daisey runs his prismatic riffs on the gun in America. The gun: a gun, any gun, all guns, guns in particular and in general; gun as totem, power object, killing machine and manly appendage. He berates us and himself for being idiotic enough to attempt to converse on the subject (any conversation there may be comes after Daisey holds forth alone for 90 minutes); he plies us with facts, anecdotes and questionable syntax. And one perfect, amazing story, nestled within his wordy web. When he tells this story, his personal story of first handling guns, his voice loses its shrill haranguing note and become velvety and engrossing.

Joe Haj, PRC’s producing artistic director, commissioned The Story of the Gun from Daisey after the Newtown, CT, massacre. Its premiere performances began Jan. 8 in the Kenan Theatre of the UNC Center for Dramatic Art, and continue through Jan. 12. In the work, Daisey never mentions Newtown, nor the name of any place where something particularly terrible to do with guns has occurred—times when surely now, now, we as a nation would rise up and stop the madness. Instead, he unravels some of the knotted reasons why we never do, or at least ascribes some particular psychologies to Americans. I found it difficult to apply some of these across the board in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic society made up of women as well as men, but his larger point holds.

We love guns. Not every single one of us, but quite a lot of us. We love their power, and we like the ways guns have made us strong in our own fantasies, histories and myths, even as we rage and weep over murders, massacres, rampages with automatic weapons. I was crying at breakfast over Gabrielle Giffords, but I’d be happy anytime to tell you about when my great-grandmother ran off the bad guys with a baby on one hip and a shotgun on the other. Or I could detail a few stories from the life of my girlhood heroine Annie Oakley, who found food, fortune and fame as a sharpshooter.

Daisey didn’t bring up any new ideas—certainly no “solutions”—but he did make a listener hypersensitive to the omnipresence of guns and images of guns in our culture. Just before hearing him, I’d been finishing Sena Jeter Naslund’s The Fountain of St. James Court, in which the climatic scene involves a 70 year old woman shooting at the feet of a threatening man with a pistol given her by a 90-something woman as a helpful tool for living alone. The next night I watched the first episode of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, the heroine of which is a smart sexy glamorous 1920s modern woman. Her aging aunt asks her why she thinks she can just freely go out at night by herself, and she replies: “Because I carry a gun,” whipping a gold-plated revolver out of her garter.

If you need to ascribe a value to Daisey’s monologue (something he brings up early on), it could be that when he says we are all in this together, you can see yourself in the imaginary mirror behind him, behind the stalwart table and microphone that separate the storyteller from the listener. We are all in this story together. That’s a high value piece of knowledge. If we didn’t need to acquire it again and again, theatrical art might never have flourished among humans.

THE STORY OF THE GUN continues at PRC2 throughSun. Jan. 12. Shows at 7:30, with an additional 2:00 Sunday show. Talk back with Daisey after each performance.

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