The tragedy of a death accelerated by inadequate healthcare coverage goes far beyond the pain and suffering of the victim.
That is the heart-wrenching statement made by Mercy Killers, a one-actor show written by and starring Michael Milligan that opened at Amphibian Stage Productions on Thursday.
Milligan is Joe, as in “Joe Six-Pack,” that guy we usually hear about only in election years. He repairs cars for a living, enjoys talking conspiracy theories with his buddies and is a fan of Rush Limbaugh. But on this night, he has just been hit by a police officer’s Taser and is seated in a stark interrogation room, illuminated by a single light bulb hanging above a cold, metal table. He is there for an unstated crime but, given the show’s title, it does not take much effort to figure out what has happened.
To explain his crime to an unseen investigator, Joe goes on a stream of consciousness rant that explains all the events leading up to his present predicament. It is an archly sad tale that is probably repeated in some form in the real lives of real Americans every day. Joe’s life fell apart when his wife, Jane, learned she had cancer. The medical bills, first with and later without insurance coverage, were devastating. Some financial decisions that Joe admits were ill-advised made their situation even worse. And, meanwhile, the cancer continued to grow in Jane’s chest.
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Jane’s medical nightmare is devastating enough. But Milligan’s script also does an excellent job of showing how an additional flood of damaging ramifications can emanate from a case such as Jane’s. Joe’s aching frustration about her cruel fate is crushing, but it is also extremely moving to hear how bad he feels about gouging his customers at his auto shop to try to catch up with the medical bills.
This show is something of a crusade for Milligan, who was inspired to write it after a health scare during a time when he was not insured. A veteran of several New York shows, including a couple on Broadway, Milligan has often presented this show in conjunction with fund- and awareness-raising efforts, sometimes in exchange for donations rather than ticket fees. His passion for the subject is evident in every second of this powerful, 65-minute monologue. So he is certainly to be commended for not only being a fine writer and actor, but also for having his heart in the right place.
Obviously, this is not a typical night of theater. This show, directed by Tom Oppenheim, is heavy and unpleasant stuff. But that’s OK because Milligan has a sincere and important message to deliver.
But a greater problem with this play is that, for most patrons, it is not going to tell you anything you don’t already know. It is not exactly a secret that our healthcare system could use some work.
So we should all applaud Milligan in spirit for what he is saying and doing. But, if you decide you want to deliver that applause in person, just be sure you understand that Joe’s interrogation room can be very close quarters.
Through May 31
Amphibian Stage Productions
120 S. Main St., Fort Worth
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays