A very theatrically lit table and chair sits alone in a sea of black on the Main Stage at Water Tower Theatre. Mike Daisey comes out, sits down and begins to talk for about 90 minutes without getting up. There’s no staging, sound effects, or breaks. And it is riveting. Last night’s lecture/performance concerned Bertolt Brecht and is part two of a “Four Evening Meditation on Men and their Gifts” called Great Men of Genius. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Daisey is kind of like that storied professor. You take their class because you’ve heard so much about how great they are. Never specific traits described but always revered tones. People who took this class would exchange a knowing look as if they had just come out of Plato’s cave and ran into each other. So, you take the class and on the first day, you think what’s the big deal? This prof is like a lot of profs. It is still lecture/discussion followed by test/presentations/papers. Why do people make such a fuss? And slowly it dawns on you that this isn’t a professor in the literal terms – a person professing. The difference is so small it is hard to see at first. It is simply a question of authenticity. This teacher loves their material authentically. There is no noise coming from vanity or ego to muddy up the transfer of knowledge. And they show you how you can love the material, too, without saying it specifically, without professing a love, but living it in front of you. That is the magic created and performed by Mike Daisey and directed by Jean-Michele Gregory.
It wouldn’t be fair to say the evening’s show is just about Brecht, though his stories about Brecht are fascinating. Daisey weaves stories about his own life into the lecture, but the aim and effect are entirely different than a stand-up comic. Not that they aren’t funny. Some are. His stories tend to reveal himself or what he has discovered about himself in the same way that he has discovered things about Brecht. Placed close together with comparisons implied and specified, we learn more about each than we would without the other. That’s good teaching. That’s good theater.