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Saturday, April 20, 2024

‘Mercy Killers’ brings political advocacy to the theater

At 7 p.m. on Nov. 11, the Veteran’s Memorial Center Theater, located at 203 E. 14th St., will house a one-man play that aims to shed light on social justice. The venue will be hosting a performance of Mercy Killers, written and performed by Broadway actor Michael Milligan.

Mercy Killers tells the story of Joe, a working-class Tea Party advocate who comes to reevaluate his stance on American health care after his wife is diagnosed with cancer. Joe’s story is told through a police interrogation regarding his ill wife’s death.

Though the play is not autobiographical, Milligan’s inspiration to write the play is seeded in his personal experiences. After being left without health care in a time when he needed it most, Milligan discussed feeling particularly compelled to write Mercy Killers.

“Having that situation myself further motivated me and made me want to write something,” Milligan said. “I really wanted to create work that also reflected my own beliefs, who I am as a citizen and as my own thinker.”

Additionally, Milligan said his involvement with the Occupy Wall Street movement and his arrest as a result of this involvement compelled him even further to write a play with social implications.

“That experience really changed my life,” Milligan said. “[My arrest] made me question myself. Is it enough to just do another Shakespeare play? Why don’t we also have a theater that’s more politically engaged?”

It was after these two events in Milligan’s life that he wrote and began performing Mercy Killers. For the first six months, performances were small — in classrooms and miscellaneous venues where Milligan performed for free.

The portable aspect of Mercy Killers is something Milligan said he finds very important. Without the necessity of venues or producers, Milligan is able to show his production to a wider audience. He intended Mercy Killers to be a social advocacy justice piece, and being able to perform for as many people as possible is one of his goals.

Today, much larger audiences are seeing Mercy Killers. Milligan has performed for the Minnesota House of Representatives, at the Edinburgh Theater Festival in Scotland and will be performing Mercy Killers off Broadway from January to February of 2014.

The current tour of Mercy Killers, which will be coming to Davis, is in conjunction with the Campaign for a Healthy California. The Campaign for a Healthy California is a statewide campaign seeking to bring guaranteed health care to all Californians. The campaign is hoping to use Mercy Killers as a tool to raise awareness and support for the Affordable Care Act, which Californians will have the opportunity to vote on in 2017.

“The people of California have to be ready to say yes to [The Affordable Care Act], and if we don’t provide them with an opportunity to come together, to have a vision of what [universal health care] could look like, we won’t win,” said Cindy Young, a health care reform advocate who coordinated the California tour. “This is a chance for us to start to do that.”

California performances of Mercy Killers will contain three components: the actual production, a discussion with a panel of local experts on the issues of health care reform and an opportunity for audience members to share their own personal experiences with health care. The personal storytelling element is one that Young finds particularly important.

“Data and statistics often leave us cold. The power of storytelling is what gets people to do something different,” Young said. “I’ve been a health reform advocate for 30 years, and I’ve never seen a play this compelling, to help move people to do something different.”

Those involved in the California Mercy Killers tour are excited to bring the production to a college-aged audience. They feel that with the future of health care in our country unclear, it is important for youth, as well as all ages, to begin developing their own positions on the issue.

“We believe that the opportunity to tell the story of our broken health care system is a much better way to reach people who might not know about this approach, or who might not want to get involved into what they see as a political quagmire,” said Jodi Reid, director of the California Alliance for Retired Americans, in an email.

Milligan too hopes that the storytelling component of Mercy Killers will allow the production to reach a wider audience than a traditional political campaign would.

“Adhering to facts and ideological debates is one thing, but to sit and bear witness to the human stories that give rise to those things is very important,” Milligan said.

To learn more about the Davis performance of Mercy Killers, visit mercykillerstheplay.com.

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