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Saturday, April 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Theater Review

Daisey's tribute to, parody of "greats"

Seattle Times theater critic

Maybe in "Great Men of Genius" Mike Daisey really has invented a new form. One that holds promise — and needs some refinement.

He calls it the "biologue." And it has writer-director Daisey (a noted ex-Seattleite who returns here often with new material) entwining a typically hilarious, personal, warts-baring monologue with a spoofy/serious biographical sketch of a famous personage.

In a pre-New York, four-night run at Seattle's Capitol Hill Arts Center, Daisey is linking his own saga with those of four colorful "geniuses." I caught Thursday's opening night show, which evoked the influential playwright Bertolt Brecht.

On Friday, masterful showman P.T. Barnum was Daisey's subject. Tonight it will be scientist Nikola Tesla and on Sunday, sci-fi writer and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

One can well imagine what Daisey's lacerating wit, rubber- face expressions and sixth sense for absurdity might make of a brilliant head case like Tesla or an eccentric guru-to-the-stars like Hubbard. They are yardlong targets for his robust satire.

But he's on shakier comedic ground with Brecht, a complex, much-lionized artistic force and a college-days hero of Daisey's.

In an interestingly unpredictable and uneasy moosh of homage and parody, Daisey takes funny but facile shots at bad theater that badly imitated Brecht's famous "alienation effect." And he dwells on recent charges (amplified by Brecht scholar John Fuegi) that the German dramatist's coterie of women acolytes were his ghostwriters on such classics as "Threepenny Opera."

"Great Men of Genius" by Mike Daisey. Tonight through Sunday at Capitol Hill Arts Center, 1621 12th Ave., Seattle; $18-$20 (800-838-3006

or www.brownpapertickets.com).

The latter accusation and its implications are being fiercely debated by theater scholars, as is the impact of Brecht's avowed Marxism on his work.

But Daisey can't resist mining the "harem" charges (and other Brecht peccadilloes) for reductive quips. And while it's fine to skewer a sacred cow, the out-of-context jokery makes it harder for Daisey to persuasively shift moods and praise what he clearly admires about the guy, including his anti-Fascist dramas in the face of Nazi terror.

If Daisey turns much of Brecht's peripatetic (and wily) life into stand-up fodder, he also sees himself in the man's artistic idealism, his uncanny sense of self-preservation and his unwillingness to compromise.

In the longest personal anecdote, Daisey describes his own failure to compromise after making a rash, offensive political gesture in college.

In Daisey's ambivalent questioning of his own tactics in service of "art," we come closest to what he may be attempting here: a kind of dual Rorschach test, in which one man identifies his own demons and ideals in the ink-blot of another's life story.

mberson@seattletimes.com

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