Still Daisey After All These Years: Mike Daisey brings his characteristically trenchant rant to Woolly.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Even for these straitened times, the bribe seemed paltry, slipped into my hand along with a program as I headed into Mike Daisey’s latest monologic provocation at Woolly Mammoth. Not that I’m an expert on the greasing of critical palms—years of writing for City Paper have left mine entirely unslippery. Still, c’mon…what sort of rave could the usher think a buck could buy for Daisey’s The Last Cargo Cult (especially when she gave a guy without a press kit a tenner)? As it happens, that’s not the game being played. The buck’s a metaphor—one link in a Daisey-chain of smart transactional loopiness that will, by evening’s end, have connected natives emerging from jungles on the South Sea island of Tanna, to bank-sponsored pyramid schemes, to sandwiches expensive enough the monologuist figures they should taste of “caviar and unicorn tears.” The title refers to a Pacific isle’s quasi-religious materialism inspired when America’s armed forces whetted local appetites with the fruits of capitalism during World War II, then departed, leaving those appetites forever unsated. Daisey’s white-knuckle island-hopping on a propeller-powered vehicle he describes as being “the punch line of a joke about a plane” is interrupted by a near-crash, and in short order he’s linking that fall to the one that came so close last year to bringing down the global economy. Gracefully, too. The man is as nimble a raconteur as the stage has possessed since Spalding Gray and at least as fierce a believer in connections. In his last Woolly Mammoth rant, How Theater Failed America, he linked arts funding and artistic timidity and managed to take the regional theater establishment to task for the very success that was making it possible for him to perform on stages coast-to-coast. In Cargo Cult, he goes global with the sort of hyperbolic, hilariously provocative rant that channels both Michael Moore and Lewis Black. He’s a sit-down comic, spotlighted at a table, and backed by an architecture of boxes and crates representing the goods with which America spreads its influence. At some point, it will occur to you that he’s basically animating the first chapter of Das Kapital—the part where Marx points out that money’s just a metaphor. That may seem like old news at this point, but there’s not a second of this screed that doesn’t ring every bit as current and true as it does funny. If there were? “You’d say, ‘I don’t buy that,’” he smirks, pausing just a beat to let the phrase sink in, “because that’s what we say in our culture when we don’t believe.”