Getting into Mike Daisey’s
epic, 24-hour monologue, All the Hours in the Day
was a lot of like boarding a really popular Disneyland ride. Long lines
snaked all over Washington High School, and I passed four
before even making it to the lines. On the way I got my left wrist
stamped with a jack o’lantern image and a grey wristband affixed to my
right wrist and my ID checked twice
But Andrea Stolowitz, Kate
Bredeson and I snagged excellent close-up seats and settled in for a
good hard sit on ancient auditorium chairs. We were the lightweights,
however; along the sides of the auditorium, along the first floor’s side
exits, were the True Believers: people with coolers, folding chairs
and sleeping bags.
And then it starts. Promptly at 6 pm, words are projected onto an onstage screen: The Hour We Begin to Speak.
We all scream. And out comes Mike.
sits at his signature wooden desk, a stack of papers preset there along
with the water pitcher and empty glass we expect. Mike is still for a
long time, peering into the audience as though mulling over what to say.
This is prolonged. We titter. Still he waits. Then from the darkness
that surrounds him on all sides, he extracts a bottle of vodka and a
shot glass. Downs a shot. The audience cheers. The Mike produces a gun
and lays it on the table. Nobody cheers.
Later on, Mike will assure us that both the vodka and the gun are real. And so the stage is set for a Chekhovian moment.
that, though, we are still waiting. The man who is going to spend the
next 24 hours talking is silent. Finally, he opens his mouth and says:
There isn’t enough time to tell you everything you need to hear.
there he wanders through a series of stories so crafted with such
immense artifice that they appear to natural—which is to say, all but
extemporaneous. Mike confesses he’s a very, very angry person, and we
segue to the best friend of his teen years, Gibbs, and the stunts they
would pull to vent their anger. Then we hear about a bad gambler whose
face and body are riddled with “tells” that repeatedly give him away.
(“He would have been a great actor,” says Mike, “but made a terrible
gambler.”) The gambler had a brilliant but broken son, trained on the
piano by Stravinsky himself, whose name was Warren Zevon.
hours our man goes on, wandering into this odd vein and whatever dark
substrata seem to occur to him at the moment—as in a sudden and
apparent digression about how his wife (and director) Jean-Michele Gregory
has always had this astonishing memory, and recalls with absolute
clarity friends, teachers, etc., from earliest childhood. And so skilled
is Mike Daisey that we forget what we came in knowing: that there are no
digressions, and this man knows exactly where he’s going.
all never not compelling. Like a novelist who knows how to end a chapter
in such a way that you just have to turn the page to see what happens,
Mike ends every 45-minute segment suddenly, arising and disappearing
into the gloom and making you hunger to see what’s coming next.
between each “chapter” are divertissements
. The first is Holcombe
, who does a vocalise of a passage from a science fiction novel
(not an inadvertent choice, as we'll find out). Later, not long after
dawn, Nikki Weaver
will guide the audience in restorative yoga. It’s all
icing, of course, because Mike’s narrative skills are all-encompassing.
some time, I’m tranced out. I go home and start watching the live
streaming, and try to get to bed early, planning to return in the wee
hours. But attempting an early bedtime never works for me. I don’t drift
into sleep till around 1:11 am, and I'm in the middle of an
extraordinarily vivid dream when the alarm clock goes off at 2. I reach
over, turn it off, the next thing I know it’s 7:17 and I have a migraine
Oy. I shuffle into the bathroom, take a triptan
medication that guarantees I won’t be able to leave home all day.
Discouraged, I cancel the ZipCar, wash off my Halloween tattoo and cut
off my wristband. And turn on the live video feed.
But it turns out that being in an altered state is a great way to watch All the Hours in the Day
wherever I come into the story seems to be the perfect place. Early on
in the performance, it happens several times that Mike describes a state
of mind and says, “If you’re like that — like me — you know exactly
what I mean,” and 10 hours into the show, I’m beginning to feel like the
show has been written expressly to speak to me personally. Does
everybody feel like that? In my own private magical mystery tour, going
in and out of consciousness, I guess it’s only natural that my mind
would seize on whatever seems to be of greatest moment. Even so, there
is a lot about Mike’s narrative that sounds downright cosmic.
instance. The lengthy and spellbinding sequence about a lucid dream of
Jean-Michele’s (remember how Mike established her preternatural
memory?) in which David Bowie appears, playing Nicola Tesla, and gives her
specific instructions. Which she acts upon. Mike delivers this sequence
totally in the dark.
Dreaming is a frequently iterated motif on
this sleepless night. Mike inveighs against society’s strictures and
“how much we’re allowed to dream”—and goes on to castigate the arts
and its artists for not dreaming big enough.
…and how our dreams
are a big part of producing the “signs and sigils and portents” that
shape human perception, which in turn shape reality—are we therefore
creating reality? “That can’t really be true, can it?” Mike asks, and
the question is not rhetorical.
What is real, actually? Or to
put it another way: what is actually happening? This will drive the
narrative arc’s second half, in which we’re informed that there is no
magic without sacrifice. Mike implores us to consider this. “You need to
stop thinking about why things happen and start thinking about how. And
I don’t mean how in the epistemological sense, but in the Jungian. Why
are the symbols in your life—of which I am one—in your life
me personally, the story’s philosophical dimensions are its strengths;
I’m less interested in story per se, and this is what drives the event’s
closing hours. All the same, it’s a great, great pleasure to be told a
story really well, and Mike Daisey is always mesmerizing. This is even
true—or maybe I mean especially true—when the story naturally comes
to devolve around his own epiphanies.
“I am after all a
monologist; my job is to draw attention to myself. My ‘tells' are
everywhere,” he says, recalling his earliest accounts about Zevon Sr.’s
failed gambling career. Mike story ends in Tomorrowland, underneath the
Carousel of Progress, but we feel he has brought us up to the present
moment. Twenty-four hours ago, we entered Washington High while it was
still “today,” and now tomorrow awaits us outside.
Not that this
decides anything. "There is not enough time," Mike says by way of
conclusion, "to tell you everything you need to hear."
one last sense of passage: Holcombe returns to the stage and sings a
Warren Zevon song that graced Mike and Jean-Michele’s wedding. Followed
by Holcombe, along with Sarah Dougher and many TBAers, singing “We All
Need Somebody to Lean on.”All the Hours in the Day
is over, and so is TBA 11. And I feel like I’ve lived through an
extraordinary moment with hundreds of Portlanders—and others far and
wide, thanks to the live feed—that will never be repeated.The last portion of
All the Hours in the Day.Mead Hunter is the founder of SuperScript Editorial Services, a writer’s resource.