All the Faces of the Moon
A proof-of-concept theatrical event, "All the Faces of The Moon" created and performed by Mike Daisey is currently premiering at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater. Mr. Daisey invents a theatrical novel over 29 nights with each show evoking a unique card from the Tarot deck.
In this, Daisey expands his usual bare-bones aesthetic and collaborates with the artist Larissa Tokmakova, who created an original oil painting to accompany each story. The project is 44 hours of humor, mystery, the personal and political by a master storyteller critics dub a modern-day Mark Twain for his provocative monologues.
Each night Daisey creates a story and performs it extemporaneously. It is captured for podcast the next day on iTunes. Providing the podcast for free, Daisey's apparent intent, aside from reinvigorating the novel and solo performance forms in one stroke, is to subvert the standard business model of theatrical distribution. It's like he's saying, in follow up to his "How Theatre Failed America," 'this, boys, is the way it is done.' What's delightful about Daisey is that he is open about his hubristic tendencies and waggishly unbowed by his "mistakes." (See the "This American Life" retraction.)
Facing no small task this reviewer prepared for covering show number 18, "The Hanged Man Knows How to Bluff," by listening to the previous 17 podcasts. Seventeen left off with Mr. Daisey pushing his wife Jean-Michele Gregory out of a mysterious zeppelin floating over Chinatown. She plummets from 5,000 feet and parachutes onto the roof of Katz's Deli that proves to be a droid facsimile of the fabled Lower East Side establishment.
He pauses to discourse on the joys and pains of marriage. One cringes, hoping this wife is a fictional wife of a fictional monologist. As he narrates her plot thread, Mr. Daisey performs a verbal sleight of hand, resorting to the third person when describing himself in the scene. The main story line is rife with dreams and dreamers. Daisey adds Mrs. Daisey to the story due to her prodigious oneiric capacity.
The story then pivots to discuss Mr. Daisey's childhood buddy Gibbs who attends Burning Man Festival. After a drug-fueled night, Gibbs becomes the receiver of a disembodied voice ordering him to New York City to protect of one of the other characters, now on the lam from banker-vampires... I know. One should get up to speed on the plotlines before watching a live show.
Over many nights, Mr. Daisey mixes reminiscences of his boyhood in Maine with a mythical tale set in the present Bloombergian universe. He invents characters that personify the great institutions of this new Gilded Age -- The Grey Lady, for instance is the venerable New York Times newspaper. He weaves numerous plot lines while pit-stopping at New York City landmarks. Katz's Deli, The post-Sandy Rockaways, Zuccotti Park, and the Hayden Planetarium are just a few. He subjects each one to his laser-heated criticism that erupts from a raucously cynical viewpoint, accrued after decades of New York living that laments the loss of the magical.
Daisey blames post-9/11 counterterrorism and the domination of the Big Banks post-recession, and observes that the average New Yorker is now completely and "thoroughly fucked." He drafts real folks both from his immediate orbit, his high school friend Gibbs, a waitress at Joe's Pub, and as in No. 18, his wife, to populate his world. He uses public figures like George Soros and sets them in real life settings. He vividly paints his meet-up with Soros and the allegorical Grey Lady that occurs at Peter Lugar's Steakhouse.
"All the Faces of The Moon," if nothing, is stylistically adventurous. Mr. Daisey gives full rein to his imagination. His tale-spinning risks all with its archetypal figures like the Jewish Golem and a surrealist vision of a New York that at times sounds like the half-finished back lot on a Hollywood set. It's a testament to his gifts and method that as one listens one can see his "clockwork" people munching gears and pulley sandwiches at Katz's and his Steampunk styled trains that zip pneumatically under the East River. There are mysterious occurrences, magic and magicians, the transmission of secret knowledge, tête-à-têtes with dead geniuses, vampire-bankers and Burning Man aficionados. All are subject to Daisey's garrulous scrutiny and caustic humor.
It follows that "All the Faces of the Moon" is for the aesthetically courageous. The scope is Whitman-esque in its allusions to New York and America. The form revives the ancient art of storytelling and mashes it with 21st century content delivery, bypassing the usual channels of cultural production and spiking the art (via earbuds) directly into your brain.
"All The Faces of the Moon" is a significant work and should be witnessed. It's not every day that an artist breaks new ground and entertains at the same time. The event is beyond the cliché of communal theatrical experience.
Under Daisey's influence, every night until Oct. 3, New York's warp and weft are untangled, destroyed, and interwoven anew into patterns, signs and portents that may well restore the numinous to urban life. It's no small achievement for a portly dude sitting at a table with a few notes on a legal pad.
"All the Faces of The Moon" runs through October 3 at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St. in New York. For information or tickets, call 212-967-7555 or visit http://tickets.publictheater.org/production/?prod=22237