It's all about race, Baby-Dog and the art of seduction in monologist Mike Daisey's "The Trump Card" at the Mahaiwe
GREAT BARRINGTON >> In his latest monologue, "The Trump Card," Mike Daisey borrows an old show-business adage when he refers to GOP Presidential nominee Donald Trump as, "the perfect Baby-Dog."
"W.C. Fields has this famous quote about all performers must never appear on stage, never once appear with animals or babies," Daisey said in a recent phone interview. "And, it's not because animals and babies are so cute, actually, it's because they're so present ... because they're not self-conscious at all, and Trump is like that."
Daisey, whose previous monologues include "The Last Cargo Cult," documenting his trip to a South Pacific island whose inhabitants worship America and its cargo, and "How Theater Failed America," an examination of the state of contemporary theater, brings "The Trump Card" to the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center Thursday night.
Over the course of about two hours, Daisey looks at Trump's backstory and examines how he has, despite no political experience of which to speak, ridden his lack of self-consciousness and populist speech to become the Republican nominee for president.
"Trump is natively a tremendous performer," Daisey said. "Part of his tremendous performance is that he has pried all of the filters off of his own id.
"When he opens his mouth he just speaks and he just says literally whatever has snapped into his mind at that moment, roughly pointed toward the subject. He can achieve a tremendous connection with his audiences because he's very present in the moment when he speaks."
It's that innate performance ability that allowed Trump to connect with people as a politician, without coming across as one, Daisey says.
"The actual mechanics of his moment-to-moment, line-by-line how he reads a crowd, that he's very, very good at. So, he uses that in conjunction with his native charisma to really achieve really impressive effects in terms of talking to crowds.
"That's something other politicians can't match, because most politicians are not performers," Daisey said. "When they speak, they have other concerns and they're worried about their own electability, they're worried about saying the wrong thing and then having everyone being angry at them.
"They have all of these very rational concerns that result in them being somewhat stiff. Not because they're bad people, they're just naturally a little stiff."
Daisey said that, as a performer himself, he's been able to examine Trump's campaign speeches from that perspective and glean some insight into his success to this point.
"There's a reason for the enthusiasm that people feel around him."
Daisey has a method to holding the attention of people watching a lone man speak at a table for up to two hours.
"You have to give them something that seduces," he said. "The trick to being seductive is to give people not the thing that they asked for, but the thing that they didn't know that they wanted."
Daisey started working on the show about 15 months ago. The first performances were in late June.
The show went through a trio of workshop performances — Daisey said he doesn't rehearse — before it began touring nationwide.
There may have been a time, before he ran for president, that one could have a discussion about Trump without race being involved, but that time has since passed, Daisey says.
"We often in America, discuss a lot of issues without discussing race, but honestly the fact that Trump's incredibly racist makes it difficult to talk about him without discussing race.
"I feel confident of the record of Trump's (real estate) company which is a remarkable record of 40 to 50 years where they didn't allow any black people of any kind to rent from them," Daisey said.
"The federal government had to take action against them. Only through the courts was (the government) actually able to get the Trump company to ... accept oversight so that it would not behave in such an incredibly racist manner.
"That seems like a pretty bright light in terms of what constitutes racist behavior.
"We have this caricature, I think in America, of the idea that racism is something that no one has, no one is racist," Daisey said. "There's this sort of weird conception of racism ... like the only people who can be legitimately called racist are people who literally put on Ku Klux Klan outfits and then burn people at the stake.
"Whereas racism and racial thinking and racial coding is part of every activity everyone has, always," he said.
During a lengthy research period, including being subjected to playing "Trump: The Game," ("A game that can be best described as Monopoly for dogs," Daisey quips during the show) he developed an empathy for Trump.
"I really think a lot about the fact that he was always destined to take over his father's business," he said.
"I think about the tremendous hungers he has for fame, for adulation for attention and how everything in his life, including his family and his father, everyone encouraged this in him deeply the entire time.
"We all get choice in our lives ... I don't know how much choice, ironically, Donald Trump really had in his earliest days in terms of the path he was going to be set on.
"When I do the show and talk about his sort-of origin, I feel like that's when I feel the most empathy for him.
"I wonder about this kid who was always going to be a real estate developer, was always going to care about money more than anything else and was encouraged to do that.
"There was nothing pushing against that saying, 'Well, maybe money isn't the most important thing.'"
Daisey will continue "The Trump Card" until Nov. 1 at a final performance in New York, which will be filmed.
After that, Daisey said he plans on adapting Howard Zinn's, "A People's History of the United States" into a 21-night monologue during which he will compare Zinn's writing against a copy of his own high school history text.
In the meantime, Daisey said, response to "The Trump Card" has "mostly been extremely positive.
"Most people that I talk to in the theater and who go through the experience of the show, are generally grateful to have someone create a kind of public forum so that we actually have some kind of reckoning with what has been going on.
"Generally, reaction is kind of a sort of spectrum of, 'I really enjoyed this show, but by 'enjoyed,' I mean I feel sick now.
"I've had a lot of people write to me about an intense sense of relief, because they feel like, though this is terrible, the world makes more sense after talking about it."
What: "The Trump Card"
Who: Monologist Mike Daisey
When: Thursday evening at 8
Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, 14 Castle St., Great Barrington
How: (413) 528-0100; mahaiwe.org; in person Wednesday through Saturday at Mahaiwe box office on site
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