Donald J. Trump – This is your life! – as told by monologist Mike Daisey. While the nearly two-hour solo performance produces many laugh-out-loud moments, Daisey ends on a sobering note: Trump may not be elected president, but what he has accomplished has set the stage for future candidates who will follow his playlist.
Daisy attempts to soften the blows by, at times, not only empathizing with Trump, but also comparing himself to the real estate mogul turned political candidate. Donald’s father, Fred, was an “alleged” racist (“alleged” emphasized by Daisey), as was Daisey’s grandfather, described as a crusty character from Maine. Daisey’s mother and father served as buffers, both parents condemning the older man’s attitude, while Trump was not sheltered from his father, instead inheriting his business and, we are led to believe, his prejudices.
Daisey’s father frequently cruised yard sales and mailed his children packages wrapped in brown paper and secured with lots of tape. While Daisey says he often burned the packages before opening them, on one occasion his father’s note proves intriguing. Inside, Daisey finds a Trump version of the popular board game, Monopoly. Daisy decides to throw a theme party, inviting friends over to play the vintage game. He serves Trump steaks (actually regular steaks that he slaps a Trump label on). Rather than Monopoly’s two die, the Trump game has one dice, a capital “T” substituting for the numeral six. Throw that letter, and the player gets to essentially rob the game’s bank.
While most Americans now know a great deal about Trump, Daisey puts his own spin on The Donald’s history. Trump was only 27 when he took over the family business, shifting the company’s focus from Queens to Manhattan, but continuing his father’s business practices which, Daisey says, meant holding out payments to contractors and then paying less than was owed. Those who objected were threatened with being blackballed by the construction industry, he says.
Besides his father, Trump’s greatest influence, according to Daisey, was the lawyer, Roy Cohn. (On the night I attended, a young member of the audience leaned over to her mother, whispering, “Who’s Roy Cohn?” Anticipating that millennials might not recognize the name, Daisey is prepared.) Cohn was chief counsel to Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt. A closeted homosexual who died of complications of AIDS, Cohn, Daisey reminds us, has been portrayed in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and on The Simpsons as the blue-haired lawyer representing Mr. Burns, the evil owner of the Springfield Nuclear Plant. After resigning from McCarthy’s committee, Cohn went into private practice and for 13 years one of his clients was Donald Trump. He represented Trump against charges brought by the Justice Department for violations of the Fair Housing Act. Daisy notes that Trump settled and there was never any indication that he was found guilty.
This is a low tech production – just Daisey sitting at a table with a glass of water and a small towel that he uses to blot sweat from his face. (While the photos included here show shots of Trump, none were used during the press performance.) He has notes in front of him, but often improvises. With Trump producing new headlines each day, Daisey has plenty of opportunity to update his script. The fact that the Republican presidential nominee ejected a crying baby from a rally made it into the performance I attended.
While Daisey stressed that he does the necessary research for his monologues, he ran into trouble with his The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs after a portion was broadcast on “This American Life,” a public radio show. “I have difficult news,” Ira Glass, the host and executive producer stated on the radio show’s blog. “We’ve learned that Mike Daisey’s story about Apple in China – which we broadcast in January – contained significant fabrications. We’re retracting the story because we can’t vouch for its truth.”
The incident raises an interesting question: are Daisey’s monologues journalism or entertainment? The Trump Card was certainly entertaining. And, in what is turning out to be a wacky presidential campaign, much needed relief.
The Trump Card
Written and performed by Mike Daisey
Directed by Isaac Butler
Woolly Mammoth Theatre
641 D Street NW
Through August 7, 2016