The first thing you have to remember about "The Trump Card," Mike Daisey's absorbing solo show about Donald Trump, which ran twice over the weekend at Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater, is that it's a performance. It's not a political essay enacted onstage. It's not even a full-fledged psychological exploration of megalomania in the form of a man who became famous for being rich and then, after four bankruptcies, maintained his fame as a brand, as Daisey noted pointedly on Friday.
"Trump Card" is a work about performance and style. Daisey, sitting at a spare desk under hot lights that cause him to dab sweat from his brow, takes us into the razzle-dazzle and razzmatazz of a political figure who dominates our news cycles and, uneasily for many, the pits of our stomachs.
In the performance, which ran for over 2½ hours Friday, Daisey does not mince words. He calls the subject of his show a b-s artist, with the emphasis on artist. The person he describes and riffs on is a showman, a magician-like figure who morphs and lies to suit a crowd. He has a performer's license, after all, even though he operates in politics.
This Trump is not held to the standards of truth. In fact, Trump the character has the freedom to change his opinions and positions on anything, sometimes several times in the same paragraph.
Daisey frames "Trump Card" like a dinner party, the kind one might have in an apartment in Brooklyn where Daisey lives. There, guests are invited to play "Trump: The Game," to dine on Trump-branded steak and have Trump designer beverages.
Daisey takes us through Trump's psychological and moral pedigree, from his father, Fred Trump, who said he was of Swedish ancestry but may have been German, and who made a fortune as a slumlord in Brooklyn and Queens. Fred Trump, Daisey tells us, also had a history of bigotry, of not renting to African-Americans, of getting arrested at a Ku Klux Klan rally.
Daisey intersperses his own history, and heritage, to explain Trump. The performer's own grandfather was an ardent bigot, he tells us. His mother, who lives in a trailer in northern Maine, is part of the demographic that might be drawn to a figure promising to make America great again for white people.
Daisey made discomfiting references to the audience on Friday, saying that he knows what liberal-leaning theater audiences expect: an evisceration of Trump.
True, there's humor in "Trump Card." But what the actor-writer is really interested in is liberal smugness. This piece also takes aim at people who read Mother Jones and listen to NPR and who are smarter than everyone else. Trump and liberalism, in this frame, are part of the same coin.
Daisey is a gifted storyteller, and in "Trump Card" he makes no claims to be doing journalistic work, as he did for "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," a program that was broadcast on NPR and later retracted. Instead, Daisey uses his own troubled history as a touchstone.
"I am a professional liar," he says, "which means I'm an artist. So is Donald Trump."