There are so many reasons to see The Last Cargo Cult, Mike Daisey’s fascinating, trenchant, and very funny new monologue, before it ends its ten-day run at the Public on Sunday. There are his very timely thoughts on the pyramid scheme that is (or was) finance, musings on the meaning of money, and — most entertaining — his magazine-feature-worthy account of a nine-hour celebration on a remote Pacific island whose denizens literally worship the American armed forces and the “great shit” they brought over from the States during World War II. Finally: If you don’t like it, you can keep Mike Daisey’s money.
As Daisey’s audience filters into the theater every night, ushers hand out bills to each person — ones, fives, tens, twenties, and even a couple of hundreds. This, it is eventually revealed, is the money Daisey makes every night, and the audience must decide whether or not to return it to a bowl onstage at the end of the show (or to give even more). It’s a brilliant gimmick, and also an experiment. Daisey isn’t releasing the results, although he plans to tally them up and eventually write about it. But he did comment in a long post on his blog about one particular performance. Noting that the rationale is to reveal “how hard it is to separate price from everything in our culture,” he kvells about December 4 being “a fantastic evening — one of those nights when the theater has an ecstatic charge.” Then he adds, “This crowd, the fastest ever to its feet in the curtain call, was the fastest out the door with my money.” We have a prediction: This show will not recoup.