Truth

Ars Nova. By Mike Daisey. Dir. Jean-Michele Gregory. With Daisey.

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TRUTH BE TOLD Daisey opens up to his audience.

TRUTH BE TOLD Daisey opens up to his audience. Photograph: Dylan O’Connor

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The memoirist with an eye to marketing his own life stories has an incentive to tart them up like ice-cream sundaes: to fudge them, sweeten them, sprinkle them with extra nutty morsels. The winning comic monologuist Mike Daisey—a storyteller in the Spalding Gray tradition who delivers his spiel from behind a simple desk and without a set script—understands the temptation of such embellishment. In his latest piece, Truth, he even describes yielding to it—years ago, when he was just starting out as a performer and his story about gutting deer in Maine gradually morphed into a false account of working in a slaughterhouse.

Having escaped rural New England, the roly-poly raconteur occasionally strays back into evisceration, as in his treatment of James Frey’s infamous pseudo-nonfiction Oprah book, A Million Little Pieces (“I didn’t even believe the punctuation!”). But while Daisey is unforgiving of Frey’s melodramatic style, he offers a more nuanced view of the process though which personal memoir, as a genre, can come to be fertilized by bullshit. Over the course of 100 minutes or so, he artfully weaves diverse narrative strands—including stories about literary liar J.T. LeRoy, heteronymous Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, a closeted gay student and his own rebellious teenage years—into a complex Daisey chain that ultimately argues for the paramount importance of honesty. His Truth may not be simple, but it is, in its own way, pure. — Adam Feldman

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