Sign Up for Updates


“Mercy Killers” - Play explores U.S. healthcare, 11/7/13

By Lori Gilbert
Record Staff Writer
November 07, 2013 12:00 AM

Broadway actor Michael Milligan's performance of his one-man play, "Mercy Killers" is sponsored by a group advocating a single-payer health care system in the United States, and his writing of the show was prompted by a case of kidney stones that came when he was uninsured.

Still, the New York-based actor doesn't consider his play an advocacy piece.

"My first commitment is to my work as an artist," said Milligan, who will perform at 7 p.m. today in San Joaquin Delta College's Atherton Theatre. "But I have to say I've been thinking about the origins of theater ... the healing role that theater performed, especially in ancient Greece. Plays were presented during a festival and plays were there to address social ills, yeah, the collective illness in the group.

'Mercy Killers'

What: One-man play by actor Michael Milligan, above, about the health care system, followed by a panel discussion on health care

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: San Joaquin Delta College's Atherton Auditorium

Tickets: $10 adults; free for students with I.D.

"The play is about health care, but I've been thinking we have an illness that goes beyond health insurance companies. There's a deeper illness, our neglect for our fellow human beings. We carry that around and we're not even aware that there's a sickness in our collective soul."

That reality struck Milligan this summer when he took his show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world.

His "Mercy Killers" took a Scotsman Fringe First Award and earned a five-star rating in the country's largest newspaper.

"People who came and saw the show didn't walk around with that ultimate sense of alienation," Milligan said. "As Americans, we are alone in regards to health care. People in other countries don't experience that."

Milligan's play is about a devotee of the conservative tea party, who is being interrogated by the police over the death of his terminally ill wife. Joe's beliefs in self-reliance and the free market are tested when his wife is stricken with cancer, loses her health insurance and they become trapped in the privatized health care system, all of which lead him to make a fateful decision.

The performance of the one-hour, one-act play is followed by a panel discussion organized by Campaign for a Healthy California, a coalition of organizations committed to a single-payer, Medicare-for-all type of health insurance for Californians. Single Payer San Joaquin and the Delta College Social Science Departments are cosponsors. Campaign for a Healthy California arranged for Milligan to spend three weeks performing throughout the state, his appearance was timed to coincide with the roll out of the Affordable Care Act.

Reaction to the play, written in 2012, hasn't changed noticeably since sign-ups for the ACA, beset by computer glitches, began Oct. 1, Milligan said.

"If anything its' becoming more and more significant," Milligan said. "Exchanges have opened, but it has not gone into effect. On Jan. 1, people no longer will be allowed to be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. But, I just found out the other day that the annual cap on what people can pay per year has been delayed a year. I'm worried if they delay it, it will be easy to continue to delay that.

"For me, the two most significant things in the Affordable Care Act are pre-existing conditions and the annual limit to what a person can owe," Milligan said. "That's what bankrupts people."

Milligan has performed his play for people of all political stripes. Although he favors a single-payer program, his play merely dramatizes the effects the current health care system can have on a typical family.

"I've had Libertarian friends who've seen the show and been moved by it," Milligan said. "It's a compelling story. I've had Libertarians say, 'How did you write that? You're the son of a liberal lawyer father. How did you do so well with a libertarian, working class (character)?' In his mind, I wasn't attacking him or making fun of him or taking sides. Likewise, with other conservative people, they can watch the show and say how horrible it is, how terrible it is, but say the problem is x, y, z. I've tried to make the play a slice of life as truthful as I can. It's not a political rant."

Still, Milligan, who said he plans to sign up for the exchange when he's home in New York, dreams of great change coming from his appearances in California.

"The reality is if California were to go its own way, it would change the rest of the country," Milligan said. "That's how Canada got a single-payer system. One of the provinces enacted it and over the course of a decade, it had a domino effect. The efficiency of delivering the goods in a better way was undeniable. There are a number of candidate states where that potential exists. I've tried to visit those states and lend my support. I don't have grandiose ideas about it, but I do like the feeling I'm spreading some ideas."

Milligan's play will be followed by a discussion among local physician Kwabena Adubofour, California School Employees Association field director Rose Roach, Milligan and Cindy Young, special projects coordinator for the California Nurses Association.

Contact reporter Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284


Back to News »