The Terms of My Surrender
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Michael Moore with Ruffles. Photo: Joan Marcus
Except for one small thing, sitting in the Belasco Theatre watching Michael Moore's lively, informative call-and-response discourse, is probably like a Trump campaign rally. The one small thing missing, of course, is Donald Trump, but there is a lively vibe to the audience who is definitely the "choir" Moore is preaching to.
Most of the audience would have never been seen at a Trump rally but were ready to cheer the liberal documentarian and activist's entertaining solo show, The Terms of My Surrender. How many will heed his call to action, we don't know.
While the show tends to run over its stated two hours, no intermission, Moore holds the stage with plenty of humor, poking fun at himself as well as bashing the Republican party, the Alt Right and of course, POTUS. With the overriding intention of inspiring theatergoers to pick themselves up and do something, "even one little thing," to make a difference. "We are the popular vote," he emphasizes, "no matter what Trump says," and we have the power to change things. Moore had proved this himself when a publisher demanded that Moore rewrite his first book, Stupid White Men, to be more politically correct. It was a librarian from New Jersey who kept the 50,000 printed copies from being destroyed and the book went on to the New York Times best seller list. "Even one little thing" can make a difference.
An engaging storyteller, Moore is surprisingly amusing anecdotes yet he also some somber and moving memories. Tautly directed by Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening), Moore's biographical look-backs include his teenage grab for power. Dismayed about the racism in the local Elks Club, Moore entered his nondiscrimination speech in an Elk's speech contest and he won. Shortly after, trying to unseat an abusive Vice-Principal in his Flint, Michigan high school, Moore ran for the local Board of Education. He won a seat. Later, when the teenager was invited to appear with TV's Walter Cronkite, he refused, claiming there was not enough Clearasil for him to appear on television.
Moore's activism continued in full gear. Years later, he learned that President Ronald Reagan was scheduled to lay a wreath for fallen WWII Nazis at Germany's Bitburg cemetery. Moore joined a friend whose parents had died in Bergen-Belson, and devised an intricate scheme to get into the cemetery and personally protest against the President .
The most amusing segment is his satirical display of the TSA list of items banned from airplanes, some obvious like dynamite, meat cleavers, and cattle prongs but also including items you might not ever consider including, like microwave ovens. Less humorous is a mock game show, "Stump the Canadian" pitting the "most intelligent American college graduate in the theater" against a Canadian volunteer with a lower grade average. Guess who won.
Not funny at all are the threats of harm hurled against Moore, including one appalling diatribe by Glenn Beck, FOX commentator. (Moore now travels with a bodyguard). Also horrifying is his account of the story behind the ongoing water contamination in Moore's hometown, Flint, Michigan.
Set designer David Rockwell places Moore in front of a stage-wide American flag, theatrically lit by Kevin Adams, with stars and stripes changing colors to highlight Moore's various segments. At times, pale glowering visages of Donald Trump are superimposed on the flag. Small lighted sets featuring a desk or a comfy leather chair slide out for different segments. Occasionally, guests are featured. On this evening, long-time Saturday Night Live's Darrell Hammond offered snippets of his sharp Presidential impersonations.
Besides the flag, video designer Andrew Lazarow provided illuminating projections of Michael Moore at age 18, sitting at a school board meeting with the older, dour and suspicious fellow board members. Another projection shows the two young men in Bitburg, Germany holding up their banner castigating President Reagan's wreath-laying tribute.
The show's tagline asks, "Can a Broadway show take down a sitting President?" That's doubtful. However, Michael Moore is dedicated and intelligent with a sweet likability. Whether or not you are in his camp, The Terms of My Surrender offers a provocative commentary by one man who predicted the winner of the 2016 Presidential election long before many voters recognized the country's depth of frustration and discrimination.
The Terms of My Surrender
111 West 44 Street, NYC
Previews: July 28, 2017. Opening: Aug. 10, 2017. Closing: Oct. 11, 2017
Cast: Michael Moore. Occasional guests.
Director: Michael Mayer
by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Also can be read on TotalTheater.com