Jade Esteban Estrada knows how to fill the stage all by himself, but a few eyebrows were raised when it was announced earlier this year that he would take on renowned raconteur Mike Daisey’s solo show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.
Estrada is a comedian, singer, and gay entertainment icon. Daisey’s monologue — written for himself — tells the story of a technology early adopter whose faith in Apple and its charismatic founder is challenged when he discovers the wretched conditions Chinese workers endure to make our cherished i-devices.
What does playing for laughs have to do with social justice issues?
A lot, it seems. Estrada's comedic timing puts the spotlight on the fan boy’s increasing double vision as he attempts to hold on to his devotion to the world of Mac. Steve Jobs is depicted as a baffling genius — a messianic, but despotic, leader who offered the world freedom from corporate regimentation, only to enslave trend-obsessed consumers to an endless series of sleek gadgets, and lock his own workers in a closed world of proprietary secrets.
The story telling is set in two scenes — the narrator’s childhood room where he looks back at youthful attempts at programming and tinkering with computer hardware, and a hotel room in Hong Kong, where he has traveled to see find contacts to get him into the Foxconn factory in Shenzen on the mainland, where overcrowding and horrendous conditions accompany the hand assembly of the iPod. An earlier version of the play, excerpted on Ira Glass’s show This American Life on NPR, was criticized for factual inaccuracies that Daisy at first tried to dismiss as allowable by artistic license. Daisey later rewrote the play, cutting the troubling sections, and added a story about a meeting with Steve Wozniak, the inventor and co-founder of Apple who still holds onto the dreams of transformation he and Jobs once shared. “It never was supposed to be this way,” he quotes Wozniak. No, it wasn’t.
Directed by Gregg Barrios, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs featuring Jade Esteban Estrada plays at Woodlawn Black Box through Sunday, June 9, and then will travel to Nightingale Theatre in Tulsa, Oklahoma on June 28 and Harbor Playhouse, Corpus Christi, Texas, July 22.