The Last Cargo Cult
December 5, 2009Mike Daisey (writer)
Jean Michele Gregory (director)
In The Last Cargo Cult, Mike Daisey attacks a simple idea—money—from several angles. In a delightfully pinko series of slices and thrusts, Daisey detaches bills from their economic value simply by using words (which are also abstractions, right?), notes that it's illegal to burn a US dollar but not the American flag, and has ushers hand out the cash he's paid by the Public then asks the audience to decide if he's earned it.
Alone onstage with his yellow legal pad—but abetted backstage by director Jean Michele Gregory and a team of designers—Daisey is simply a storyteller, but an incredibly gifted one. He's got a knack for taking his own measure through remarkably candid self-disclosure. But he's less the heir to Spalding Grey—the resemblance is only formal—than to Kurt Vonnegut. A hilarious and dyspeptic observer of the human animal, Daisey weighs with equal irony a picayune moment in his marriage to Gregory and the mob behavior of hedge fund managers during last September's TARP bailout.
Much of Cult describes Daisey's expedition to the South Pacific, where he met a tribe that uses cell phones but not money and worships a semi-mythical American GI in the form of a volcano. But the work is vitally political too; it broaches the taboo fact that on September 12, 2008, the world's economy nearly collapsed. Despite that seismic catastrophe, Americans do not have a post-9/12 mindset. Daisey means to provide a catharsis for our economic near-death experience. His success shouldn't be measured in the cash that audiences return to him but in the paroxysms of our laughter.
The Last Cargo Cult plays at the Public Theater (425 Lafayette Street, betw. E. 4th & Astor Place), closing on December 13. Tickets?