How Theater Failed America Theatre Review - You Already Know the Answer... Don't You?

“You should not have come here… Why are you here?”

Mike Daisey is truly insightful and entertaining

It’s the very first question monologist Mike Daisey poses to his audience at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. His piece is called “How Theatre Failed America” and he is the first to admit it’s a really bad title. The ninety minute performance is one part lecture, one part state-of-the-union for the American Theatre scene, one part auto-biography and two parts character-shifting rants á là Jack Black. Daisey’s monologue attempts to deconstruct the inner workings of America theatre in order to answer the questions of how and why things have gone so horribly wrong within the community, the institution, the art itself.

Mike Daisey pulls back the curtain on Theatre in America

Daisey takes us through the misadventures and revelations he experienced as a young thespian entering the world of professional theatre. Through his memory’s eye, we revisit Daisey’s first experience with a Madman, also known at Mini Ivy as the Drama Professor. He muses about the time he decided to start his own repertoire theatre company in Western Maine with a grand total of four other performers. Daisey takes us to the dark side and his days in the Seattle Theatre scene thriving in the wake of grunge. He gives a hilarious and comprehensive breakdown of regional theater; how is works, who does what and how any play and every play, miraculously always comes together in just three and a half weeks. He shares a sobering, personal account of the suicidal depression that eventually led him to teaching drama.

The piece ventures to explore the love/hate relationship that must unsung actors have with their art. Daisey examines his own personal relationship with his acting career and the various ways in which he has tried to manage, escape and indulge his own inner creative child.

"How Theatre Failed America" runs at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City through MArch 21, 2009.


The content of this production was extremely well thought out, so the task of critique becomes a bit gray. In choosing the present this piece as a monologue, Daisey kind of lets himself off the hook in terms of giving a bona fide “performance”. I mean that not to say that he does not perform; he does, quite brilliantly. His stories are candid, revealing and engaging, despite the fact that he never leaves his chair and that throughout the entire performance, he wipes at his brow incessantly, virtually melting before our eyes. We like this guy a lot, despite the scary intensity and intellectual vigor with which he makes some of his arguments on behalf of his languishing art. There were moments in his show when he could have engaged the audience more, shared in the obvious ridiculousness of “the system”, yet he did not. I assume it was a choice to remain a careful aesthetic distance from the material he was conveying.

A plea on behalf of a 'dying' art

  This show was not a stand up comedy routine. However, I thought it was unfortunate that Daisey did not take advantage of the many moments he had to truly connect with his audience. As Daisey observes: the entire point of theatre is that connection - between audience and performer - that disappears as quickly as the words are spoken, and ironically, I felt as though he did not seize the opportunity to share it with us. I wonder about that choice: to choose to erect and maintain this artificial distance between himself and the audience. The choice to share his experience through characters and language, but to draw a line at an emotionally exchange…  I wonder because, aside from a little trimming and small refinements in the balance between the comic and the cerebral, it is this structural choice that keeps this piece from being a truly remarkable work of theatre.

Mr. Daisey, my regrets, but I am afraid I can only go so far as to call “How Theatre Failed America” a really great show! Well Done.

How Theater Failed America runs without an intermission, March 18-21, 2009 at:

Kirk Douglas Theatre
9820 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

Ticket Information: 213-628-2772

Photo Credit: Craig Schwartz

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