10/19/2011 09:12 am ET | Updated Dec 19, 2011

First Nighter: Mike Daisey Takes a Big and Sour Bite Out of Steve Jobs's Apple

Though technology visionary Steve Jobs died two weeks ago after his eight-year battle with pancreatic cancer and thereupon sent much of the globe into mourning, Mike Daisey is definitely not likely to have been among the many bereaved pilgrims carrying flowers to the innumerable pop-up shrines. Once upon a time he might have been, as he says in The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, his one-man show just opened at the Public Theater after a try-out period at other venues.

During the nearly two-hour intermissionless talk -- for which "diatribe" mightn't be a misnomer -- technology-worshiping Daisey does acknowledge that Jobs was "the only hero I ever had." (Really? Wow!) But that was prior to a trip he made not that long ago to Shenzhen, China and the Foxconn manufacturing plant where a significant percentage of Apple products are turned out by 400,000 workers in round-the-clock shifts.

What changed his mind -- and radically -- is recorded in no uncertain terms during Daisey's newest piece. His delivering it dressed head-to-toe in black and seated at a table with only a stack of papers, a glass of water and a folded black handkerchief (for wiping sweat from his face Ella Fitzgerald-like) before him and behind him only a spare grid with pinpoint lights provided by Seth Reiser, undoubtedly reminds theater-goers of monologist Spalding Gray's now silenced performing.

But "monologist" is only one part of Daisey's description, since unlike Gray, he doesn't delve unsparingly into his own psyche. The other equally important part is that he's a dedicated investigative reporter. He's driven -- here "driven" is precisely the word -- to bring as many listeners as possible the results of his findings, which include the fresh-to-many news that the Apple products so many of us proudly own are often assembled by 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds under conditions where after enough seasons they are physically impaired and, in too many cases, suicides.

Outraged by the situation -- and alternating those grim facts with an acerbic review of Jobs's mercurial personality (the details now fresh to all from the recent obituaries and appreciations) -- Daisey wants nothing less than to infect anyone in earshot with his human-rights and labor-rights advocate's fervor. It would be hard to say he doesn't succeed with his MAC-inations -- that anyone leaving his oration isn't having second, third and more than fourth thoughts about loyalty to Apple products.

(Scraping around for an excuse to ignore Daisey's findings, an audience member with a scoop-snoop's leaning might be moved to check the accuracy of Daisey's claims, hoping to find them biased and therefore simple to dismiss. The tactic won't work, since Daisey isn't the only one to have come up with the dire revelations, and that includes the more liberal Chinese publications.)

But while Daisey has pressing messages he wants to get across, there's also the manner in which he does so at his modest table. The gadfly is, to put it mildly, portly -- he makes a crack about himself that goes, "Why is that fat man laughing at his own jokes?" But avoirdupois is hardly the problem. Neither is it that his sardonic worldview could be -- but probably isn't -- the reason for his full-lower-lipped mouth now flowing into deep lines that end at his wide chin.

Those aren't the drawbacks for this spectator-auditor. I run into trouble with Daisey's delivery, familiar, of course, from his previous spoken essays. My resistance is perhaps so personal that others attending to him needn't concern themselves with it. They may even get the kind of kick out of the mannerisms that Daisey's New York Times op-ed piece -- which cogently made the same points as his Public Theater chat -- doesn't and can't convey.

The issue for me is that Daisey's stylings are obviously calculated, not only from sentence to sentence and from word to word but from syllable to syllable. Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory, his wife, he gesticulates non-stop, and the movements are so broad that this respondent finds it challenging to watch Daisey for more than seconds at a time. Okay, I admit it. I spent at least 80 percent of his speech with my glance averted, listening, as if at a radio and Daisey was declaiming somewhat like a disciple of the late, great Jean Shepherd.

That tactic made things easier but not easy, because, it seems to me, each of those carefully-honed sentences, words (an abundance of them searing obscenities that don't salt the Times article) and syllables has been carefully gauged. There are those on which Daisey is programmed to screech and those on which -- frequently smiling like an executioner just waiting to swing his axe -- he's been coached to lower his voice in a near whisper. My guess is that from performance to performance, he doesn't vary the cadences and inflections one iota.

In other words, the passion he's selling isn't coming from any still-volcanic emotion but is strictly manufactured -- like those appliances against which he's so keen to harangue. What Daisey has to say is crucial. How he says it is another not entirely endearing or edifying thing.