Theater archives

Going Nuclear in If You See Something Say Something


Monologuist Mike Daisey uses a few simple props: a microphone, a wooden desk, a glass of water, pages from a legal pad, and a black handkerchief with which to dab at perspiration. This last seems inadequate. Perhaps Daisey might consider a large duvet or a moderately sized cotton field: Sweat clusters at his eyebrows, tumbles down his cheeks, pools at the base of his neck, soaks his forearms—someone hand that man a bath towel.

Currently, Daisey risks dehydration in the service of If You See Something Say Something, a 100-minute speech that details the rise of the Department of Homeland Security, the biography of neutron-bomb inventor Sam Cohen, and Daisey’s own tourist jaunt to Los Alamos. Some of the material Daisey shares is not terribly fresh, like his ridicule of Tom Ridge’s color-coded alert system. But Daisey brings a tremendous (nearly nuclear) energy to the proceedings, stating that yellow stands for “terrified,” orange for “really fucking terrified,” and red—here, his imp-cherub face erupts into a scream—for “Oh, my God! We’re burning! We’re burning right now!”

Daisey isn’t a subtle performer. Though he clearly models his setup on Spalding Gray, he doesn’t ape Gray’s Waspy ironizing. Nor do he and director Jean-Michele Gregory show much interest in variance or modulation. Nearly every moment’s a big moment, each new detail another excuse for Daisey to screech “What the fuck!” as he toggles between bafflement and rage. Though enjoyable, it’s an exhausting evening, for Daisey as well as the audience.

As in his last piece, How Theater Failed America, the best moments, and the few quiet ones, come when Daisey leaves off discussing larger trends and narrates personal experience. Here, it’s his fascination with trinitite, a glassy substance produced when plutonium and sand have a little party. As Daisey handles a few pieces of what might be trinitite, his eyes soften and his face relaxes. If only for a moment, his personal alert level shifts down to green.