‘Michael Moore: The Terms of My Surrender’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)
By Matthew Wexler
One of the joys I find in reviewing theater is its escapist quality, where I allow playwrights, actors, designers and other creatives to whisk me away to a place where I can imagine “what if.” It’s this suspension of disbelief that has always been so appealing. So it was with anxious trepidation that I approached Michael Moore on Broadway: The Terms of My Surrender. Winner of the 2003 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for Bowling for Columbine, a chilling exploration about the proliferation of gun violence in the U.S., Moore has used the entertainment industry as a platform for exploring deeply complicated societal issues. And since Donald Trump’s entry into politics, he’s had more source material than ever.
Moore’s one-man show (with a few non-speaking guest appearances for some Broadway flash) begins with an emphatic statement: “How the f*ck did this happen?” He’s referring to the election of the 45th President of the United States: Donald Trump. Democrats, Independents, and plenty of Republicans are still reeling from this question and the subsequent political fallout. It’s safe to say in a bi-partisan manner that the White House is a hot mess as Moore offers a litany of examples of Trump’s position on major issues such as women’s reproductive rights, climate change and gun control. But he is also quick to point out his own party’s failure in securing enough electoral college votes to secure Hillary Clinton (and Al Gore for that matter) the presidency after winning the popular vote: “We’ve defined a whole new way to win: it’s called losing.” In spite of Trump’s offensive comments caught on tape with Billy Bush and his alleged ties with Russia, the man now sits in the most powerful seat in the world.
And with that seat comes responsibility. Through his own personal experiences, Moore implies that whether you’re sitting in the presidency or in the living room of a middle-class home in Flint, Michigan, in the late 60s, social justice can be achieved. It is this sense of empowerment that ties Moore’s story together (under the deft direction of Michael Mayer). He encourages audience members to download www.5calls.org, an app which enables the user to easily contact his/her government leaders regarding timely issues.
In addition to Moore’s criticism and observations, he also scrolls back the clock with several stories that reflect how small actions can make a big difference. He speaks of a transcontinental trip he and a fried took to Bitburg, Germany, in 1985 to protest Ronald Reagan placing a wreath on the graves of German soldiers and SS troops. He also recounts how a New Jersey librarian helped get his book, Stupid White Men, back on the shelves after HarperCollins pulled the title after 9/11. The evening lightens up as Moore extracts two audience members—one Canadian and one American—to test their basic political knowledge. And as a haunting equivalent to an 11 o’clock number, Moore recounts Flint’s water crisis, the abhorrent actions and cover-ups by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, and the dystopian conclusion that “Flint was a prologue to Trump’s America.”
If there is anything disarming about Moore’s diatribe, it’s that it is delivered with a sense of “us versus them.” Some might say America’s growing pains are a sign that our two political party system needs to dissolve. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Nor do I see an end to the Electoral College. Worst yet, I’m not sure if the American people are all that interested in the welfare of others. We can wax poetic about healthcare, the opioid crisis, and immigration, but how much are we willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the whole? So far, not much. But with Michael Moore continuing to mix the melting pot, perhaps that will change.
Michael Moore on Broadway: The Terms of My Surrender
111 West 44th Street, NYC
Through October 22
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his writing at www.wexlerwrites.com.