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Actor’s play about health insurance crisis picked up top honors at Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Mercy Killers

Actor and playwright Michael Milligan comes to Davis for a performance of his one-man show "Mercy Killers" at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 11, at the Veterans' Memorial Theatre, 203 E. 14th St. Courtesy photo

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From page A9 | November 07, 2013 | 1 Comment

Actor and playwright Michael Milligan — who has appeared in several Broadway shows, performed  in several major Shakespeare festivals and taught at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting — comes to Davis for a performance of his one-man show, “Mercy Killers.” The play will be presented at 7 p.m. Monday at the Veterans’ Memorial Theatre, 203 E. 14th St.

The play aggressively takes on a hot-button political issue — the American health care system, and the fate of the uninsured — through a character named Joe, who is being interrogated by the police over the death of his terminally ill wife.

A proudly self-sufficient American man, Joe is sympathetic to the tea party and Libertarian ideas about the free-market economy. However, when his wife is stricken with breast cancer, and then has her health insurance revoked, they become trapped in the labyrinth of the health care system and find it increasingly difficult to pay for her health care. Joe’s faith in the American Dream is put to the test.

In August, Milligan’s “Mercy Killers” received the Fringe First Award at the internationally prominent Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. It takes place over three weeks every August in Scotland’s capital city. The Fringe First Awards celebrate the best new writing at the festival, as judged by the team of critics from Scotland’s national newspaper, The Scotsman.

The reviewer for The Scotsman said “Mercy Killers” possesses “a marvelous and mysterious kind of alchemy at work in Michael Milligan’s mesmerizing, harrowing indictment of U.S. health care. (It is) theater distilled to its most basic essentials — one ordinary individual telling his story, as if to an invisible interrogator, his only props a table and chair. …

“It’s patently fueled by profound outrage, and yet all these elements are so skillfully and meticulously controlled, in both the writing and performance, so thoroughly transmuted in service of storytelling, drama and characterization, that the effect is gripping first and foremost on a painfully human level.”

Milligan is barnstorming across California with his play, which is being presented in venues that range from union halls to churches, and city rec halls to acting schools. He often begins interviews by citing the statistic that “over 60 percent of all bankruptcies in the U.S. are the result of medical debt. … What most people don’t realize is that in the majority of those bankruptcies, the person involved actually had insurance at the onset of their health crisis. ‘Mercy Killers’ is my attempt to translate those statistics into the actual human experience indicated by those numbers.”

A discussion session follows the performance.

Milligan was motivated to write the play after witnessing several under-insured friends in the realm of theater suffer devastating losses in terms of their health and their finances due to illness that went untreated early on, leading to further complications. Milligan himself experienced this when he developed a case of kidney stones and did not have enough insurance coverage to seek treatment.

Milligan’s credentials include roles in several Broadway shows, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning “August: Osage County,” as well as “La Bete,” and “Jerusalem.” While studying theater at Juilliard, Milligan won the John Houseman Prize for excellence in classical drama. He has previously received accolades for his performance of Lanford Wilson’s one-man show, “Poster of the Cosmos,” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1995.

Tickets are $10 at the door, with proceeds benefiting the Campaign for a Healthy California. For information about the tour, go to www.mercykillerstheplay.com.

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