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Mike Daisey gets standing ovation at last N.Y. performance

People who saw final New York performance of "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" said they liked the show even though Daisey's tale of how workers are treated in China is now under scrutiny.

Mike Daisey received a standing ovation from New York fans today at the conclusion of his show, 'The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.'
Courtesy Ursa Waz

NEW YORK--Even with his credibility in tatters, actor and Apple critic Mike Daisey received a standing ovation today following the final New York appearance of his one-man show, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs."

"He was really, really good," said Jane Glucksman, 50, at the conclusion of today's matinee at The Public Theater. "I came here sort of skeptical after reading about what was going on, but his show made me want to re-examine everything I've heard about Apple."

Many of the people interviewed by CNET as they left the theater raved about Daisey's performance, and to beat all, many of them were also aware to varying degrees that Daisey may not have been telling the truth, or at least not the kind of truth based on facts. Several performers and authors argue that they adhere to a another kind of truth, one that gives them license to free stories from rigid facts. We've all seen movies that write in the prologue "based on actual events."

That's the kind of reporting Daisey suggests he does.

These "true stories" can include hearsay, vague recollections, and the stitching together of disparate anecdotes and different characters. But here's the rub: Nobody who saw Daisey perform on Sunday seemed to mind that the accuracy of his Foxconn story was under scrutiny. There's lots of media pundits ripping Daisey now for lacking respect for facts and his audience. Some members of his audience are telling the pundits to shut up.

Barry and Diane Eisenstat, outside The Public Theater following Mike Daisey's performance. 'He's very perceptive,' said Diane. Greg Sandoval/CNET

"He was very entertaining," said Diane Eisenstat, following the sold out show. "He's very perceptive. It was a great performance. He really makes you think."

Daisey has helped whip up condemnation of Apple and Foxconn, the company contracted to help build iPads and iPhones in China. He did that by writing a monologue into his show about a 2010 trip he made to China where he says he witnessed all kinds of sad and desperate displays of human suffering, indirectly caused by Apple. They included underage workers, people poisoned by industrial chemicals, and workers crippled by unsafe equipment.

In January, when the radio show This American Life used an excerpt of Daisey's monologue for a news story, the actor vouched for the veracity of what he says in the show. Then, Public Radio journalist Rob Schmitz began to investigate his claims. They spoke with the woman who worked as his translator during his visit and when informed that she disputed his version of events, Daisey began backtracking on all manner of details. In interviews with Ira Glass, the show's host, he acknowledged some of the facts were made up.

On Friday, the radio show issued a retraction. Glass said the show is committed to presenting factual reports and that following the investigation, the producers no longer believed Daisey's story.

His theater gig was more forgiving. Last night, before beginning his show, Daisey told his audience that he had revised the script to make it more accurate. He also told the crowd that he stood by his work as a whole and that Apple's failure to provide adequate working conditions was verified by The New York Times and other news organizations. That part is true.

But he continued to present as fact some of the information that was disputed by his former translator. He dealt with that by telling the audiences at what parts she remembered it differently than he.

Eisenstat, 62, said she would have liked him to offer more of an explanation about the discrepancies but added that overall she left the theater satisfied. She and her husband, Barry, who also attended the show, are MIT graduates. They consider themselves tech savvy.

Their feeling was that if the conditions were confirmed to be bad at the Foxconn factories, then an artist should be allowed to dramatize a story to make an impact. Art is not journalism.

Not everybody agreed. Some of the people who had seen Daisey's show previously said they were angry that he had misled them.

Apparently, Daisey is going to be a controversial figure for some time to come. His show is scheduled to appear next in Washington, D.C.