nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
January 20, 2007
Armed with only a table and a chair, a glass of water, and a few sheets of paper, monologist/solo performer Mike Daisey takes the audience on a funny and profound journey in his extraordinary new show, Invincible Summer. The title refers to an Albert Camus quote about discovering the invincible summer in oneself, but just as easily applies to the rich tapestry of events that occur one particular summer and shake the author to his core.
Invincible Summer tells the story of Daisey's cross-country move from Seattle to New York following the success of his solo show, 21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ Amazon.com. With a new book deal in hand, Daisey goes through the culture shocks experienced by many new transplants: the crowds, the fast-paced energy, the oppressive summertime heat. But, he discovers that he and his wife, director Jean-Michele Gregory, were unknowingly "New Yorkers living in exile" as he recounts years spent in Seattle sitting at home, dressed in black, and being depressed. Daisey also fixates on the MTA, which provides further proof that Daisey was meant to be in Gotham, since he kind of invented it while waiting for the bus daily in Seattle: "Fucking buses...if only they came regularly...and were underground..."
But, Daisey grapples with more challenges than just living without an air conditioner and getting his book done on time. After several decades of marriage, the author's parents announce that they're getting divorced, and Daisey is soon faced with meeting his father's "super-annoying" new girlfriend. On top of that, Daisey finds himself in Lower Manhattan on the morning of the September 11th terrorist attacks, and witnesses the destruction of the Twin Towers firsthand. His subsequent feelings of rage and retribution lead him to cautiously support President Bush and the Iraq War.
Invincible Summer is bookended by two weddings, so it begins and ends on a hopeful note. But, in between, Daisey touches on more serious subjects, like redefining his relationship with his parents, and the eventual betrayal and shame he feels for ever backing the Bush administration. The parts of Invincible Summer devoted to September 11th and the Iraq War are especially potent because Daisey makes these hot-button political topics intensely personal by conveying how such things can become agonizingly private matters for the everyday citizen. He also has a talent for the perfect telling detail that illuminates a given situation, such as when he fears, during a heated argument with his mother, that she will prevail by throwing him on the floor and sitting on him.
Daisey is a likable, warm, and comfortable presence on stage, and his desire to connect with the audience makes him a commanding storyteller. Watching Invincible Summer, it's easy for audience members to feel as if Daisey is addressing them one-on-one (I know I did). And, his use of recurring motifs is powerfully effective. My favorite of these is the repetition of his father's toast at Daisey's wedding reception: "Don't go to bed angry. Stay up and fight." What seems comically inappropriate at first becomes more meaningful as Invincible Summer progresses, finally becoming a benediction for the audience as Daisey encourages them to stay up and fight—fight for one's ideal vision of the country and the government, fight the personal demons that hold one back, fight the adversity that threatens to crush one's faith and spirit—and discover the invincible summer in themselves.