REVIEW: A People’s History

Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it… But what if that’s exactly the outcome that those people writing the history books want? What if making people believe that poor farmers in Virginia and Maine were willing to go to war with the biggest army in the world over a tax on tea only helped further an agenda by those in power to maintain that it?

There are times during Mike Daisey’s powerful monologues in the Gurthrie’s Dowling Studio where you can actually hear the audience collectively connecting the history they thought they knew with the context that explains how it was all a huge lie.  No, not a lie, because lies are often easy to uncover, but rather an invidious misdirection and subtle deception framing greed and lust for power that would propel centuries of struggle that never quite made sense if you stopped to think about it.

Based on Howard Zinn’s bestselling A People’s History of the United States Daisey takes audiences through a different piece of history each night, with a focus on separate unifying concepts, rather than as a series of ploddingly sequential wars led by “Great Men” that so often drives most history textbooks.  Showing that history is made, not in the progression of troops across a map marked by big red arrows, but by individual and collective choices helps reinforce that every individual can make a difference if they understand how they fit into the larger context.  But if that context is hidden or obscured, not by accident, but purposefully, by an agenda so subtle and so pervasive, it isn’t hard to see how people could be manipulated into perpetuating the cycles that have been going on for centuries.

Daisey’s energetic, passionate, and humorous performance is an impressive piece of theater, considering that it isn’t like a stand-up routine or scripted performance that is honed over time, but rather is a mix of intense research and improve that culminates in a different 90-minute performance each night.  The $9 general admission tickets make it easy to come back again and again, which I certainly plan to do.  If there was such a thing as binge-watching theater, this is it!

A People’s History is at The Guthrie Theater through March 31, 2108.