Character at heart of health-care crisis play, Mercy Killers

Michael Milligan in <i>Mercy Killers</i>.

Michael Milligan in Mercy Killers.

All of the detailed charts and policy discussions in the world can't have the same emotional impact of a well-told story. Playwright and performer Michael Milligan proves that thoroughly in his one-man show, Mercy Killers, now playing at Pillsbury House Theatre.

Through blue-collar Joe, Milligan puts an all-too-human face on the American health-care crisis. More importantly, from a theatrical standpoint at least, Milligan crafts a fully realized character that comes to life in all of his complexity during the one-hour show.

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[jump] Joe is a working man. He co-owns an auto shop, works hard for his money, and never looks for a handout. The straightforward dreams of home and family he shares with his wife are shattered when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. This leads the couple down the rabbit hole into surgeries, treatment, and financial ruin.

The end is clear at the beginning of the play. Joe, decked out in heavy work boots and his auto-shop clothes, is in a police interview room to explain why he killed his wife. 

The stark, simple setting and lighting focus all of our attention on the actor, whose credits include work on Broadway and throughout the country, as he crafts a complete and rich character out of the tragic story.

At his heart, Joe always wants to do what is right for his wife. His own conservative politics and desire to take care of his own (and be responsible for his own troubles) often leave him confused about who to blame for the disaster that has befallen his life in a few short years. Even his hardline honesty takes a hit, as he starts to cheat customers with unnecessary work to make extra cash.

Through it all, his devotion to his wife stays true. The two got a divorce so she could qualify for Medicaid, but they still lived together and he wears his wedding ring throughout. 

Milligan's script and performance bring all of these complexities to bear. His program notes include a plea for those on all sides of the political and social world to stop blindly hating others and actually listen. Mercy Killers is certainly a strong voice in the conversation.


Mercy Killers
Through May 4
Pillsbury House Theatre

3501 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis

Tickets are pay what you can (regular price: $25)
For tickets and more information, call 612.825.0459 or visit online.