by Joshua Curry
When Mike Daisey was here last year, his monologue The Ugly American was the best thing about Spoleto’s new Solo Turns series. It was an account of Daisey’s time, ten years ago, as a college exchange student in London, where he studied theatre and fell in love with one of his acting colleagues – who turned out to be a prostitute. It was as hilarious as it was heartbreaking. Daisey was back at the Emmett Robinson Saturday night for the performance of his new work, Monopoly!, and I cut out early from Jeff Daniels to be there (you don’t want to walk in late to a monologue any more than you do for a stand-up act).
Daisey sits behind a desk, facing the audience, and performs with just a glass of water, a hankie, and a short stack of notes, each page of which represents a single scene in the monologue – talking points for his story, which is otherwise unscripted. Monopoly!, like many of Daisey’s monologues, is actually not just one story but a half dozen or so, which he waltzes around and among, tying them all togather with a neat bow at the end. In this case, the many strands included the history of the board game Monopoly!, physicist Nikola Tesla and his struggles with Thomas Edison over creating a single standard for electricity, Daisey’s home-town Wal-Mart, a gig as a “fat geek” actor opposite Bill Gates in a Microsoft commercial, and the production of a lecture on Tesla he created with fringe New York theatre group La Frere Corbusier. It was 90 minutes of fun, although for me the end lacked the impact of last year’s Ugly American, where the story was all about Daisey. We can care a little about Tesla’s pitiful fate and the injustice of what happened to him and his inventions, but it’s Daisey who’s sitting in front of us, a fat geek with a hankie and outsized heart.