IT ISN'T EVERY SHOW that has a performer steadfastly proclaiming, "I am an 11-year-old Taiwanese girl, I am," and really meaning it without at least a trace of smug irony. In Doolymoog 2001, John Paulsen's rather odd solo piece, there isn't a single disingenuous moment, yet there isn't a completely successful one either. And any evening that features Enya as pre-show music is probably doomed to naked sensitivity from the get-go.
Doolymoog 2001 Northwest Asian American Theatre ends March 3
In a series of eccentric character sketches, Paulsen embarks on a nonlinear journey through an apocalyptic world marked by a touchy-feely sort of alienation. From the Wonder bread employee who talks to his mini-teddy bear about a dream date with Rebecca De Mornay, to the jockstrap-clad, glow-painted primordial sort grunting in front of a footlight, these are unusual people lost in their private circumstances.
While his committed originality is notably unswerving, it's not enough. The show is so resolutely oblique that it begins to feel like some tedious primal therapy for Paulsen, who doesn't completely transform himself and expresses every impassioned sentiment with the same tentative calm. When he emerges after intermission wearing clown makeup and warning that "dreams are the Free Self trying to get information to the Control Self," you can appreciate the philosophy while still acknowledging that your Control Self is looking at your watch.
There is an original mind at work here, absolutely, and Paulsen is dealing with very human fears. You can certainly make a show out of that (and Kevin Joyce did a while ago with his A Pale and Lovely Place), but it's too personally expressed here. Two directors, George Lewis and Tina Lapadula, had a hand in it, though neither one seems to have advised on how to shape it or what to cut (curiously, a set change occurs during the first act rather than the break). Paulsen, meanwhile, remains such a genuine, empathetic soul that you wish you could enjoy his show more.
21 Dog Years: Doing Time@amazon.com
Speakeasy Backroom ends March 31
THE REVERSE SIDE of Mike Daisey's program for 21 Dog Years: Doing Time@amazon.com, an incisive remembrance of his tenure at Jeff Bezos' empire, is a Xerox of Daisey's own r鳵m鬠featuring handwritten asides that point out the vast difference between reality and corporate doublespeak. A job description claiming that he "helped recruit from untapped sources" in Amazon's Business Development is annotated with "Called Pokemon sites. Begged 12-year-olds," while a figure citing customer percentage growth as "from 9.7 percent to 16.7 percent" is revealed simply as "Guesses." We've all puffed ourselves up professionally in careless attempts to woo nameless others, but the big success of Daisey's show is the further illustration that "if enough people lie at the same time, we can shake the world from its orbit."
Viewed strictly as a constructed theatrical experience, 21 Dog Years is fairly negligible. Daisey isn't doing anything but hanging out and telling a story, and he and director Jean-Michele Gregory don't make it more than that. Every move away from Daisey's makeshift desk feels arbitrary, and his informal delivery battles overpowering music cues for our attention. (Also, something should have been done about the harsh intensity of the lights, a problem in the intimate venue and which—I hate to point out—causes a distracting amount of perspiration on the performer's part.)
What makes the show is Daisey's absolute comprehension of the destructive dot-com mind-set, and the great good sense he has to point the finger at not only Bezos ("a brilliant child") but also himself and, by implication, his yearning, irony-weary generation. "I can't tell you how exciting it was to have something earnest in my life," he explains, detailing the youthful camaraderie of misery that blooms among the troops.
The material can also be giddily funny, whether puncturing the inflated desires behind Amazon's wrongheaded acquisition of Pets.com or parodying typical workplace conversation: "You got here in August, but I got here in April and we did things differently then." Daisey truly distinguishes himself, though, by his perceptive refusal to resort to an easy sour-grapes viciousness. He reaches beyond that, smartly bookending this tale with an account of his return to Amazon headquarters to view the Kingdome demolition. Daisey compares that event to this current moment when far too many of us are simply standing around as both spectators and willing participants, breathlessly waiting for a very big thing to collapse.