CHARLES TOWN – Actor and playwright Michael Milligan brings “Mercy Killers” – his powerful examination of the ills of the American healthcare system that’s been staged off-Broadway and everywhere from Minnesota, Illinois, California, his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, and myriad other places – to the Eastern Panhandle this week for six free performances.
[cleeng_content id="948170899" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]His one-man show tells the story of Joe, a body shop owner and devotee of rightwing radio god Rush Limbaugh who loses his house, his livelihood, and finally his spouse after they’re hit by the twin evils of cancer and a lack of affordable healthcare. As his wife’s illness upends their world, Joe also finds himself questioning his deepest beliefs.
As the show has made its way across the nation, fans of Milligan’s say it taps into a universal concern over healthcare.
The play’s arrival in the Eastern Panhandle comes after nearly a year of planning, explained Shepherdstown resident Lynn M. Yellott.
During a monthly conference call for the organization Healthcare-Now last spring, Yellott heard a description of Milligan’s play, including the reasons he wrote it and his experiences during the play’s initial tour through his home state.
“The idea of the play resonated because it offered the promise of a new way to foster discussion about healthcare reform,” Yellott said. “Instead of policy debates, it sounded as though the play put a human face on the statistics and graphs.”
Soon, Yellott and other locals involved with Healthcare-Now and Physicians for a National Health Program had gotten in touch with Milligan, who sent them a script.
Upon reading “Mercy Killers,” Yellott said she found it did in fact bring to life the numbers and charts documenting the damage done when patients delay or forgo care because they can’t afford it.
She also found in the play echoes of tales she’d heard from her husband, a family doctor who frequently heard from patients struggling with the high cost of medicines, tests and specialists.
When she first had the opportunity to see the play, Yellott said she knew the decision to bring “Mercy Killers” here had been correct. Michael Milligan is a superb actor, she said, and one who has created a character who compels empathy and provokes discussion about important issues.
Milligan, who studied at Julliard where he won the John Houseman Prize for excellence in classical drama, has been acting professionally for nearly two decades.
His resume includes extensive work in Shakespearean roles, including at the Folger Theatre in D.C., and portraying Little Charles in “August: Osage County” on Broadway.
Yellott is also pleased that there’s no admission fee to see “Mercy Killers.”
“We are bringing the play here on a shoestring budget,” Yellott said. “Michael Milligan helped make it happen. He is committed to enabling as many people as possible to see the play.”
The events that unfold in “Mercy Killers” connect with nearly all of us, Yellott said. “Except for people with unlimited means, Joe’s story is one that most people can relate to. If we personally don’t know someone struggling to pay medical bills, we probably know of a friend of a friend in that boat.
“I think people are tired of the sound bites and distortions about healthcare issues. People are drawn in [to the play] by the stories of others.”
Want to go?
What: Six free performances of “Mercy Killers” are scheduled in the Eastern Panhandle in the coming week, including at 7 p.m. Friday, Ice House at 138 Independence St. in Berkeley Springs. Also on the lineup:
Where: 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Fisherman’s Hall at 312 S. West St., Charles Town
2 p.m. Sunday, Opera House at 131 German St., Shepherdstown
7 p.m. Monday, Calvary Church at 220 W. Burke St., Martinsburg
7 p.m., Tuesday, Baha’i Regional Center at 308 Buchanan St., Ranson and finally at 12:30 p.m. April 2, in the auditorium of Erma Ora Byrd Nursing Hall at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown.
Sponsors of the local tour include the local chapters of Physicians for a National Health Program and Healthcare-Now, the Eastern Panhandle Central Labor Council, the Jefferson County branch of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Jefferson County and the Shepherd University Lifelong Learning Program.
For more on the play, go online to mercykillerstheplay.com.