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Performer Mike Daisey brings 'The Trump Card' to the Guthrie

Serial monologist Mike Daisey is taking on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in a show that will bring some urgent civic discussions to the Guthrie Theater.

He will perform “The Trump Card,” his solo show that premiered over a month ago to strong reviews, in Minneapolis just as the election season enters its last phase. The monologue orbits issues raised by the rise of Trump, including questions about civility, performance art and the state of American democracy.

It's perhaps the most high-profile kick-off of the Guthrie Theater's Level Nine Iniative, which seeks to promote conversation around urgent topics. 

“Mike Daisey is one of the most electrifying voices in theater today," Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj said in a statement. "The evening promises to be a provocative look at the system and society that has placed Trump so prominently in our world. I look forward to lively community discussion following this acclaimed performance."

Daisey’s most famous work is “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” a monologue about conditions at Apple’s China factories. The story was broadcast on National Public Radio’s “This American Life” as a work of journalism but was retracted after it was discovered to contain parts that were made up. In other words, Daisey is an expert of lying to get to the truth, or, as he likes to put it, performing.

“Trump Card” is helping Daisey come back from the ashes. His late work is clearly marketed as fiction, or performance art, an area in which he is expert.

“I understand Donald Trump because I’m a performer and he’s a performer,” Daisey said by phone from his home in New York. “And this is about peeling back the systems so that we see how the performance works.”

Ever since Abe Lincoln was felled by a bullet fired by actor John Wilkes Booth, Republicans have been wary of theater. Is Daisey simply preaching to the converted.

“Some people, regular theater people, who come to see the show are looking to see some blood in the water,” Daisey said.“They want to see Donald Trump get eviscerated. But a lot of it is turning the mirror on us and asking, what has happened with our discourse so that this man is the nominee of a major party? Also what role do we play in a system divided into Democrats and Republicans?”

Daisey first had the idea for his latest project about 14 months ago, “before Trump had declared but everyone knew he was seriously thinking about it,” he said. “I thought, God, I actually specialize in talking about megalomaniacs, and this man is famous for being rich.”

Initially, Daisey thought it would be a curio, a one-off “about a specific character and the performance of that character.”

But as he dug into Trump the person and Trump the phenomenon, he started to see other things that spoke, however unscientifically, about the state of American democracy.

The show posits that our political system is like a broken marriage. “One partner has lost his mind. The other partner is having problems with a socialist from Vermont,” he said.

Citizens, in this scenario, are affected and disaffected by the political dysfunction.

“Donald Trump speaks to people who have been sold out by both major parties,” said Daisey. “He’s unafraid to intensify that feeling by pandering to the deep racial divides in the country. He does that because he knows what works in our political system. He’s good at giving people what they want to hear and they listen to him for that. He’s a disrupter but he’s taking things that’s been suppressed or hinted at and bringing them into the light.”

Besides, Daisey said, he and Trump practice the same craft. Both are expert performers.

"When Donald Trump tells lies, he believes them fully," said Daisey. "We, in turn, follow his lead. Donald Trump has abused the performer’s license, the trust you earn in front of a crowd. But he understands that lies can be used to sell wars or to melt down a financial system without any consequence for the perpetrators.”

"The Trump Show" runs at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9 & 10, Guthrie Theater, 818 2nd St. S., Mpls. Tickets are free but are limited to two per person. 612-377-2224 or online.


As Metallica raged nearby, performance artists lit a fire of their own (without pyro)

Chicago-based Jill Flanagan (Forced into Femininity) performed at Saturday’s “Boiling Point” salon at Fresh Oysters in south Minneapolis. (photo by Farrington Llewellyn)

Chicago-based Jill Flanagan (Forced into Femininity) performed at Saturday's "Boiling Point" salon at Fresh Oysters in south Minneapolis. (photos by Farrington Llewellyn)

“Boiling Point” was an apt title for Saturday night’s performance salon hosted by Fire Drill at Fresh Oysters Performance Research in south Minneapolis. Most every artist brought a form of fury to the tiny venue, prompting thoughts of Metallica raging on a much grander stage just blocks away. The evening was cathartic, challenging and sometimes disturbing, but overall a celebration of extremes. 

Chicago-based performer and noise artist Jill Flanagan (Forced into Femininity) used vocals – punk rock sneer and heavy metal bellow – to bolster her tumultuous presence. Dressed in a frayed sequined gown, her face made-up with horror-style blemishes, Flanagan threw her body, paced about, and climbed over audience members. She confronted injustices, including the outsider experience of living as a transgender woman, using shouted words and dark humor. Flanagan’s provocative approach dared audience members to either welcome or reject the volatile energy she injected into the room. Whatever the individual response, Flanagan undeniably shifted the atmosphere in a palpable way, giving a vital reminder of how art can disrupt.  


Paula Mann and Pedro Pablo Lander.

Paula Mann and Pedro Pablo Lander.

Pedro Pablo Lander took a subtler approach. Joined by dancer Paula Mann, Lander explored the struggle of living one’s true self. He wore a dress while applying make-up, only to have Mann grab at his face and dunk his head into a water bucket. The dancing evolved into a belligerent postmodern tango of sorts and then came a ritual-like change into masculine-identified clothing. By the work’s end, Lander showed us loss, not only of a person but also potential. 


The performance duo Hijack (Arwen Wilder and Kristin Van Loon) offered a calmer interlude. As is often the case in Hijack’s work, no movement or prop went unconsidered. Of particular interest was the use a costume jewelry pile and the distinct clicking sound made as each piece knocked against the other. These small reverberations, paired with the deliberate choreography, became something more important than expected, a hallmark of Hijack’s style. 

Lazer Vortex took over, channeling the spirit of Wendy O. Williams in a no-holds-barred twerk-filled burlesque. Vortex delved into the intersection of sexuality and violence – hence the appearance of a real axe midway and the destruction of a children’s toy, with plastic shrapnel flying. Vortex also took on the tricky territory of celebrating the body while mocking sexual stereotypes, but they (Vortex's preferred pronoun) stayed mostly in control of the messaging thanks to an eye glint hinting at more subversive purposes.

New York City-based performer Lorene Bouboushian brought the evening full-circle with a work featuring a different type of vocalizing than Flanagan’s. She rambled with ironic and humorous observations, at times echoing Stephen Wright’s deadpan comedic delivery. While Bouboushian likely had a plan, her approach felt spontaneous, including a crowd-surfing moment while wearing crotch-less underwear. Many in the audience expressed concern about an invasive touch as they passed her aloft. It was a thought-provoking commentary on social limits for an audience that had already experienced an evening full of limit-defying work.   

To learn more about Fresh Oysters Performance Research visit


Arwen Wilder and Kristin Van Loon of the performance duo Hijack. (photo by Farrington Llewellyn)

Arwen Wilder and Kristin Van Loon of the performance duo Hijack.