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Lance Baker sticks with ‘ethical’ staging of ‘Jobs’

Lance Baker performs “The Agony Ecstasy Steve Jobs” 16th Street Theater.

Lance Baker performs “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” at 16th Street Theater.

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‘The Agony and the
Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’

♦ Jan. 10-Feb. 9

♦ 16th Street Theater, 6420 16th St., Berwyn

♦ Tickets, $18

♦ (708) 795-6704;

Updated: February 5, 2013 6:18AM

If you kept track of theatrical news in 2012, you may have heard of “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.”

There’s been much controversy surrounding renowned storyteller Mike Daisey’s one-man show since a portion of Daisey’s monologue exposing inhumane working conditions in several Apple electronics factories in China aired on National Public Radio’s “This American Life” in March. Several key facts turned out to be untrue — and Daisey and the show were discredited for a time.

Not for long, though. Daisey apologized for the misinformation, and replaced five minutes of the show with new material serving the same purpose. The New York Times reviewed the new version as “even more powerful, funny and engaging” and, since that time, more than 35 productions of the new show have been staged around the globe.

That includes productions of pre-and post-controversy versions of “Agony” by Chicago actor/director Lance Baker, who will re-stage Daisey’s “ethically made” rewrite starting Jan. 10 for one-month at the 16th Street Theater in Berwyn.

“Despite what he did, I love that this show is — and always has been — essentially a big, flaming ball of truth dropped in the audience’s lap,” said Baker, a Jeff Award-winner who has made a specialty of performing monologues such as Will Eno’s “Thom Pain (based on nothing),” Adam Rapp’s “Nocturne” and David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries.”

“Even though he was exaggerating certain details here and there and telling the audience he had witnessed a few things first hand when he hadn’t, the bulk of the show was truthful,” said Baker, “and audiences walked out of the theater with a deeper understanding of the suffering that’s bound up in the technology that’s become an almost inescapable part of our lives. Most people today take things like the iPhone and the iPad for granted without ever considering where or how they’re made. And if they are aware, it’s a distant concern, despite the culpability we all share for using these devices.

As a result of what he calls “the whole ‘This American Life’ debacle,” Baker said he believes most people, if they’ve heard anything about it at all, believe that the show is a polemic, a broadside against Apple — and that it should be entirely discounted because of Daisey’s misleading reporting in one segment.

“That’s not really the case, though,” he explained. “I think Daisey dug pretty deeply into the show, taking out even more area around the wound than he needed, to set the story straight.”

Baker recalled that he was performing the original show at Red Orchid Theatre when the “This American Life” creator Ira Glass called Daisey out on his show, and that he followed the details of the story closely before he re-staged the “unredacted” version with a helpful visual aid. Whenever he reached a portion of the monologue that had been proved to be untrue, he turned on a red light bulb. During passages that were still in dispute, he switched to yellow. The rest of the time, he went with green.

“People were kind of amazed that the green light stayed on 90 percent of the time,” he said.

Bruce Ingram is a local free-lance writer.

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