The Last Cargo Cult

  • Our critic's rating:
    December 1, 2009

    Review by Tulis McCall
    8 Dec 2009

    Normally, Mike Daisy is engaging on a visceral level. He sort of dares you not to listen to him. Sitting behind his desk, with a few notes and a glass of water, he looks a little too much like Jabba the Hutt to be considered in any way inviting. Once he starts to speak, we follow him. It’s either that or leave the theatre, which is something I might like to see someone else try, but I sure wouldn’t.

    The Last Cargo Cult is a group of people who live on the east side of an island in Vanuatu that is five stops away from the main city of 20,000 people. Daisy went there to see the annual John From Festival, which is an all day affair that tells the history of the United States. They do this because there was once a military base there, and when it was ended a religion began – the cargo cult.

    Daisy is also there because he is pondering money – its actual makeup, woven paper, and the idea of it, which has been invented by humans. When he first left his small town in Maine and went to college he ran smack into the wall of finance in the form of all the “stuff” that heretofore was unknown to Daisy. The realization never left him, and he is now spinning s story about it.

    Well, sort of. Daisy goes back and forth between these themes – money and the goings on in Vanuatu, without quite connecting them. Often times the segues are more like leaps from a trampoline. Once you get used to it you can hold onto your belongings just fine.

    The people on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu created their lives based on what they have in front of them. We base ours on what we think we have on our asset sheet. We think we are better because of our stuff and our asset sheets. Daisy, with a mountain of boxes stacked in back of him is suggesting we rethink that comparison and consider how we punish those who pull of the tiny scams that rob 300 million dollars. We reward the ones who steal hundreds of trillions of dollars.

    And, in this most recent piece, Daisy shows us a little of himself. It may be because of the weight he has lost, but there is a part of him that appears here that I have not seen before. It happens in the scene where he is describing driving to the Hamptons with his wife to perform this same piece. Suddenly there is Mike Daisy. After that he never goes away – and his work is better for it. Even as he tells us that the money we are handed as we walked in, is not ours to keep, because it is his, and not his to keep either; even as he tells us we are replaceable and do not mater to him; even as he explains that we are connected only through that money – he is in the pool with us splashing around. He is part of the cuckoo world he is questioning.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "One (Mike Daisey) of the elite performers in the American theater."
    Jason Zinoman for New York Times

    "Incites as much painful reflection as laughter."
    Frank Scheck for New York Post

    "He travels from comic outbursts featuring trademark facial contortions to moments of such quiet sincerity that you can hear a dollar bill drop in the audience."
    Nicole Villeneuve for Back Stage

    "The end product is hilarious."
    Sam Thielman for Variety

    New York Times - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Variety