By Margret Echeverria
“How the f*** did this happen?” Michael Moore asks in the first moments of his Broadway show directed by Micheal Mayer, The Terms of My Surrender, as he stands in front of a huge projection of the face of our current commander in chief. As I look around me in the theatre, there is a cautious nodding of heads. Are we among friends here? “Only once in the last thirty years has a Republican won the popular vote for President,” Moore reminds us. “The people didn’t want this.” Oh. Okay. Maybe it is safe to nod in this room. There was a wild-eyed protester outside screaming something about peace with Putin and taunting us to engage with him as we came in, so we’re all a little tense.
Let’s be clear: This is a big theatre; chances are there are people in this room who disagree about politics to the core of their beings as if it were religion. But soon Moore calls for us to relate to one another over the most tender of wounds reminding us that, if a loved one died tonight, most of us would struggle to find five hundred dollars to fly to a memorial. Loss knows no politics and we have all lost so much in the last thirty years because of politics. We all have these feelings of hopelessness. So, let’s talk.
If you own a copy of Stupid White Men, some of the stories told here may be familiar to you. I wanted Moore to get deeper about the current matters sooner. We know he was an anomaly who ran for school board at the age of 18 and won. Good for him. He remembers a time – what? A hundred years ago? – when there was more freedom to dissent. One could sneak into a Reagan press conference then without being disappeared. I don’t know how you manage your public self lately, but I feel like I’m in that scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) when Donald Sutherland screams at Veronica Cartwright exposing her as a critically thinking human thereby ending the world. As Moore brings his story to the scary of now, he reminds us that it was forbidden to be against the Iraq war once the “liberal” New York Times and Judith Miller lead us there. He talks about the aftermath of his Oscar acceptance speech for Bowling for Columbine in which he dared to say he made non-fiction films for these fictitious times.
What followed were threats to his life and actual murder attempts. We had to be quiet while the “Hate Media” got louder and louder, Moore says, and so of course the King of Hate Media became president. Moore points out that we had “Previews of Coming Attractions” in his home state of Michigan when another CEO tried to run the government “like a business.” The show gets serious, Moore chokes up about kids poisoned with lead and we are collectively conscious of such insurmountable loss.
Yeah. This feeling sucks.
But as my behavioral therapist yells at me, Whattya gonna doooooooo abaht it??? … well, Michael Moore has some simple action plans. Speak up, he pleads with us. He directs everyone in the audience to download an app from 5calls.org to make calling your representative as easy as your morning pee. And, if you are thinking you are too small, Moore insists that we are not powerless because people will rally to help you. He recalls that, when a most unlikely librarian from Englewood New Jersey heard him read two chapters of Stupid White Men at Rutgers when the book was about to be “pulped” – like in a Fargo woodchipper by Murdoch cronies – she rallied a bunch of other librarians who marched around HarperCollins with signs in New York City to put Moore’s book on the best seller list for years. Remember, Moore emphasizes, when you speak up, there is no poll in which the majority of respondents agree with the neo-conservative point of view, so therefore, there are lots of folks who agree with you. Dare to run for office, he says with all sincerity.
“This is a thinking person’s show,” my companion and mentor pointed out over wine after the play. “It will be interesting to see how long it can last on Broadway,” she said, ordering another. Our current social political situation results much from No Child Left Behind: These kids were never taught to critically think and now they are all grown up and voting … and going to the theater. So, Michael Moore makes you laugh at the absurdity of it all – with props! – so that we can stop breathing in shallow fear for a moment. He pauses for a live and hilarious game of “Stump the Canadian” with volunteers from the audience and that is not the only chance the audience gets to participate in the show. There is no set script because, to my great pleasure, Moore includes discussion of today’s news. Moore hired a Movement Director, Noah Racey to allow us to see some terrifying footwork. The scenic design by David Rockwell combined with the lighting design by Kevin Adams and projection/video design by Andrew Lazarow is grand, colorful and also updated nightly. And . . . there’s a young woman – gorgeous, expressive and super talented . . . and cops . . . and – SQUEEE! – male strippers!!! So, go get entertained, You Crazy Kids! (Get wise and active, too!)
The Terms of My Surrender – By Michael Moore; directed by Michael Mayer
Scenic Design by David Rockwell; costumes by Jeff Mahshie; lighting by Kevin Adams; sound by Brian Ronan; projections & video design, Andrew Lazarow; movement direction by Noah Racey; production stage management by Lisa Iacucci, executive producer, 101 Productions, LTD. at the Belasco Theatre at 111 West 44th Streeet, 212.239.6200, www.michaelmooreonbroadway.com. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes.