Dreaming of a Distant New York

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“All cities dream,” Mike Daisey observed at the Emmett Robinson Theatre Tuesday night. “New York dreams of itself.”

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In the single performance he gave of his new work Invincible Summer, the Brooklyn-based monologuist (he also performed his Monopoly! several times earlier in the festival) riffed on a new batch of seemingly unconnected stories and weaved them into something larger and more poignant than any one of them may have been on its own. Tuesday’s performance was actually closer in spirit to last year’s Ugly American than to Monopoly!; the disparate narratives all had Daisey himself at their center, which plays to his biggest strengths: a self-deprecating wit and a first-person pathos that lets him take a listener’s heart and squeeze.

Invincible Summer is mostly about the summer of 2001, plus a few months on either side: Daisey’s marriage in Seattle to Jean-Michele, his wife and business partner; the unexpected success of his first monologue, a subsequent book deal, and a move to New York; his parents’ divorce; his gig at the New York Fringe Festival and the Off-Broadway run that followed.

Daisey’s manuscript, it seems, was due to his publisher in midtown Manhattan on September 11 of that year. But, wisely, he doesn't tell us this; he takes us through the events of the morning as they happened for him, and we realize slowly what’s transpiring almost as he did: with a slow, horrified, dawning realization. When he began speaking about the events of that morning - Daisey was cooling his heels at a downtown Starbucks before heading to his editor's office when the first plane hit – I could feel the audience tightening up, the anxiety level in the room rising like a silent groan. But, to his credit, Daisey’s description of the tragedy was virtually all from his own perspective of it, and that of other New Yorkers. The effect was powerful and memorable.

As a New Yorker myself at the time – I was living and working in midtown Manhattan that summer – Daisey’s description had particular resonance for me. Like him, I’d only moved there a few months earlier. Like Daisey, it’s an experience that’ll stay with me for the rest of my life. It takes a gifted storyteller to approach a tragedy like that one without exploiting it.

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