Mercy Strain

Theater, Drama
2 out of 5 stars
Michael Milligan in Mercy Strain
Photograph: Michal Daniel Michael Milligan in Mercy Strain

American Theater Company. By Michael Milligan. Directed by Tom Oppenheim. With Milligan. Running time: 55mins; no intermission.

Theater review by Kris Vire

New York actor Michael Milligan's slight solo work takes place in a police interrogation room, in which we're meant to buy that Milligan's agitated, flannel-wearing roughneck character is allowed to rant, rave, stalk the room and punch the air for nearly an hour by the officer taking his statement.

It soon becomes clear that the man's wife has died, and he himself is at rock bottom in any number of ways. How this came to be, he insists on telling his interrogator, began with a diagnosis of breast cancer and spiraled into mounting medical costs, a shoddy mortgage, insurance company shenanigans, bankruptcy and other misfortunes of the modern economy.

Milligan intends this to be a portrait of a Rush Limbaugh–listening conservative discovering how the most upstanding and right-thinking among us can find themselves screwed by the system—a noble enough aim.

But his premise is too hackneyed, his characters too thin and stereotyped and his dialogue too tin-eared to stand as an equal with Anna Deavere Smith's Let Me Down Easy, with which ATC is presenting Milligan in a repertory it's calling "The Healthcare Plays." Mercy Strain might fit in fine at fringe festivals, but at ticket prices approaching $50 for a standalone performance that's under an hour, audiences are likely to feel as ripped off as the protagonist.


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