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 The story was broadcast on National Public Radio’s “This American Life” as a work of journalism but was retracted after it was discovered to contain parts that were made up.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.