As the Affordable Care Act is being reassessed by a new Congress and administration, Michael Milligan is bringing his unblinking and very personal look at health care to the stage at East Tennessee State University.
Milligan’s one-man show Mercy Killers will be in the spotlight on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 7 p.m. in ETSU’s Martha Street Culp Auditorium as the 2017 program for the annual An Evening of Health Wellness & the Arts – co-sponsored by the ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts and College of Public Health. A catered reception will follow the free one-act performance, and work by Quillen College of Medicine students, sponsored by the Gold Humanism Honor Society, will be on display in the Alumni Gallery before and after the show.
Mercy Killers depicts the plight of a blue-collar mechanic, Joe, whose wife has cancer, and their life-and-death struggle with the American health care system.
“We hear people debating health care reform all the time but we rarely look at what it means to an ordinary citizen,” says Mark Plesent, artistic director of Working Theater, New York City, where Mercy Killers was produced in 2014.
The one-man show is written and performed by Milligan, a graduate of The Juilliard School, who has appeared on and off Broadway and in regional theaters throughout the country and in Shakespearean productions the world-round. Milligan portrays Joe, a body shop owner and Tea Party proponent, who finds his beliefs shaken when his wife’s breast cancer treatments and hospital bills lead them into divorce and bankruptcy, despite the fact that they have insurance.
Dubbed a “deeply affecting love story,” Mercy Killers is an emotional journey of a man who fights for his wife’s life using every resource, personal and otherwise, he can muster.
“No one should ever be in the situation that these people in the play find themselves in … where they lose their health insurance and are forced to scrap their lives and their quality of living in order to survive,” says J. Steven White, supervising producer at the Harold Clurman Lab Theater in Los Angeles.
Milligan wrote the play, tapping into the growing universal concern over health care, after experiencing his own health care crisis while between insurance coverage periods, as well as after witnessing struggles among his loved ones.
“Over 60 percent of personal bankruptcies in the United States are a result of medical debt,” Milligan says. “The majority of these people filing the bankruptcies actually have insurance at the onset of their medical crisis. Mercy Killers is my attempt to translate this data into the actual human experience of what that’s like for working people, especially since the recession.”
After the cancer surgery “… those bills that are coming back,” the character Joe says, “they’re almost as scary as the surgery … I just wanted to get the story out there because I think that something like this might happen to anybody.”
The arts provide a perfect vehicle for sharing stories of the human condition, says Anita DeAngelis, director of Mary B. Martin School of the Arts. “One of the reasons why we’re devoted to co-sponsoring this event annually,” she says, “is that the lens of the arts often helps us more deeply understand health care and health and wellness.”
“At the basic level, I hope that the audience better understands the complexity of our health challenges. On a deeper level, I hope that the audience sees how important it is to fully understand a complex situation before passing any ‘judgment.’ ”
For more information on Mercy Killers, visit http://mercykillerstheplay.com.
For more information on Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, visit www.etsu.edu/martin or call 423-439-8587