Mike Daisey admits it. He's a liar. No, not because of that dust-up in 2012 over a theatrical monologue he wrote and performed about horrid working conditions in Chinese factories churning out Apple products and how that piece of theater was adapted into a radio piece for a journalism program on NPR, and it turned out there were embellishments in Daisey's story, and then there was a retraction from NPR and Daisey caught hell for not apologizing soon enough or enough enough or whatever the fuck, and then journalists and the social-media herd started calling him an unethical liar and he had to do the internet walk of shame, and on and on and on.
No, Daisey calls himself a liar because he is a storyteller in an artistic medium, a performer. And performance, not lying or being accused of lying, is why his latest monologue examines the prince of liars in America circa 2016—Donald J. Trump—and, just as important, those people who have helped propel that liar to one vote away from the White House: you and me.
"Fundamentally, he's a performer like I'm a performer, and that forms the central thread of this monologue," Daisey says from Portland, where he was set to perform The Trump Card, which he'll do in Santa Ana on Saturday. "It's built around the fact that I understand the way he works in a way that most people, certainly in the media, are not doing a very good job of understanding.
"So while it was challenging in some ways . . . [such as] that in the thousands and thousands of words written about Trump over the years, there are almost no personal anecdotes and exceedingly little information that points to an interior life. It was also illuminating to see how Trump performs and why his performances work."
The Trump Card isn't an 80-minute skewering of Trump. That would be easy to do, Daisey admits in his script (which is open-sourced and downloadable for anyone who wants to read or perform it). While his research on Trump found plenty to pillory, he also found things that humanized the man. Such as how he grew up destined for a career "in real estate, sculpted by his unbelievably deeply racist father to take over the job he had," Daisey says. "It makes one wonder how much choice he had in his development and what he actually wanted to do in life." Or the fact that he is "possessed by deep hungers for fame and recognition. He needs to be seen incessantly, and in most people's psychology, that points to a terrible emptiness, and it's also a problem that afflicts [many] people who turn to performance. And [Trump] is a particularly virulent example of that."
The piece begins with a prologue, of sorts, centered on an evening in which Daisey invited friends over to his apartment to play Trump: The Game, a shameless rip-off of Monopoly with some Trumpian twists (whenever someone lands on a property you own, you don't take money from them; you take it directly from the bank!), but then relates Trump's biography (with some Daisey digressions), including his slumlord, penny-pinching father Fred and Trump's taking over Daddy's business at age 27 and changing the focus from building shitholes in Brooklyn and Queens and not renting to black folks to building gold-plated shitholes in Manhattan. It also examines his corporate bankruptcies, emergence as a reality TV celebrity, the Republican primaries and current state of the election, and, most pointedly, his relationship with Roy Cohn, Senator Joseph McCarthy's Iago, a homosexual-hating homosexual, anti-Semitic Jewish person and, in Daisey's words, a "terrible . . . bad . . . strange, horrible, conflicted person . . . an unrelenting asshole."
He was also Trump's lawyer, confidant and personal adviser for 13 years—or, as Daisey puts it, Trump was his apprentice. "While that story has been covered by The New York Times and some other outlets, it can't be [covered enough]," Daisey says. "It's unbelievably important in understanding how that helped shape Trump into who he is."
While Trump is the basis of the show, there's another subject: Daisey's audience, which, he says, tend to be white, affluent liberal people who love the theater. "I'm interested in people having a human experience of this story and possibly [thinking] about what it says about this country that so many people are hungry for something that isn't the establishment," he says. "But it's also an indictment on the audience. There is a lot of turning the lens on the audience, asking them how we got into the position where a person like Trump can take advantage of the system and how we're all complicit. And maybe thinking about how both the right and the left have forgotten about the center for the past 30 years. I think those are important things to think about."
The Trump Card plays somewhere in downtown SanTana. Seriously, it's a secret, and it's already sold out. But you can read the play by visiting www.mikedaisey.blogspots.com and clicking on the hyperlink. It also plays at the La Jolla Playhouse; www.lajollaplayhouse.org. Oct. 4-9.