It’s unusual to review a show after only seeing about a tenth of it. But All the Faces of the Moon, master monologist Mike Daisey’s epic new serial project—now playing at Joe’s Pub—defies many dramatic norms. Daisey is syncing theater’s rhythms to larger natural cycles, performing 29 new monologues over 29 days, one for each phase of the moon. (Each day, the previous evening’s monologue is released as a podcast.)
I saw three early parts in the series, and while I can’t tell you exactly how they all fit together, I can say that Daisey’s storytelling is conceived on a gargantuan scale. Call it lunar theater: His allusive story structures suggest the movement of the tides—their drifting is the manifestation of a deeper order. Each piece—I can’t resist calling them moon-ologues—has its own narrative and characters. But each also spins variations on the larger concerns underlying the whole.
The project has a fierce apocalyptic strain. Tuning his discourse to the celestial body’s wax and wane, Daisey muses on other patterns of ending and beginning: the changing of the seasons, the transmutation of cities and societies over time. Images of mortality and finality abound. A recurrent narrative thread describes Daisey’s failed suicide attempt after he was caught fabricating details in his popular show The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, and an eerie confrontation with the specter of death on the Red Hook waterfront. The occult figures of the tarot deck—the first monologue details a visit to a fortune-teller—supply a trove of archetypal images.
In the monologues I saw, Daisey wove acutely observed (and often very funny) riffs on the events of the actual performance days into his fictive storylines. He chatted about the fall’s first cool weather, the mayoral primary, the unveiling of the new iPhone. He hinted at the metabolic processes of history and individual consciousness. Both digest variegated days into simpler narratives; the stories we tell about our society can never encompass its teeming multiplicity. And the stories we tell about ourselves can only capture fragments of what we really thought and felt in those fleeting seconds, hours, and days.
Daisey is asking us nightly to meet his stories with our own, to make his monologues the occasion for commemorating daily life in New York in September 2013, in all its brilliant, conflicted, passing glory. You should take him up on it.