This season’s upcoming final title, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” –– a one-man play starring Seale and directed by Larry Snipes, best known locally as producing director for the Lexington Children’s Theatre –– is mired in contemporary relevance and controversy alike. Originally written as a monologue, the production, which gained international attention when segments of it were aired on the public radio show “This American Life” earlier this year, explores playwright Mike Daisey’s love affair with Apple products and his fascination with the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, while at the same time decrying the corporation’s exploitative global practices. Daisey visited the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China, where many Apple products (and other electronics brands) are made, and detailed the questionable labor practices he encountered in the monologue.
Less than a week after AGL announced the selection of the play in March, the very relevance and controversy that attracted the AGL staff to the play became even more pointed, when “This American Life” issued a retraction of the episode featuring Daisey –– which had gone on to become the show’s single most downloaded episode –– on claims that Daisey had made up entire segments of the story. Daisey’s facts about Foxconn’s practices were true, said “This American Life” host Ira Glass, but many of the personal anecdotes and encounters that Daisey recounted were revealed to be fabricated.
“The retraction was painful,” Seale admits, as his show was already in production. Seale and his staff wrestled for days about whether or not to proceed with the show, which he refers to as “a really good story, and a fascinating story, and a funny story.” Sure, it blurs the line between citizen journalism and storytelling, but so do many literary works that purport to be memoir –– including, as Seale points out, stories by David Sedaris, another frequent “This American Life” contributor. (AGL has performed Sedaris’ “SantaLand Diaries” a couple of times.)
“It’s very complicated,” Seale said. “In [Daisey’s] own bio, he uses the term ‘journalism’ at one point about what he does, but it’s gonzo journalism. It’s not journalism with a big J.”
Ultimately, Seale, Snipes and the rest of the AGL crew decided not only that the show must go on, but that they would take the opportunity to incorporate the controversy surrounding the fabrications and “truthiness” of Daisey’s original script into their performance.
“Our presentation will be much different than Daisey’s,” Seale said. “He gave us the right to edit, to change the work, to suit our needs as producers, [so] we can make sure our audience is informed on all aspects of the story.”
Seale recently took a few minutes out of his sleep-deprived schedule to answer a few questions about some of his favorite productions and thoughts on the Lexington theater scene.
What are some of the favorite plays you’ve directed?
“Pillow Man” will probably always be my favorite experience as a director, but more recently “Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer” would be high on the list. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for “American Buffalo” by David Mamet.
What are some of the favorite roles you’ve acted in?