“How the F**k Did This Happen?”
Only yesterday was I able to catch up with Michael Moore’s The Terms of My Surrender, which opened nearly a month ago. In addition to the one you’re reading, it has racked up 46 regular reviews on Show-Score.com, with 135 brief ones from website members. Its aggregate score from the former is 70 and from the latter is 79, with high and low numbers all over the place. So there’s little to add to the discourse other than to briefly note my reactions for the record. And to give it a 70 of my own.
As anyone who considers themselves a political junky well knows, Moore is a middle-aged, liberal gadfly from Flint, Michigan, who, for several decades, has cast a jaundiced, regular-Joe, working-class eye on significant social issues, mainly through a series of controversial documentaries dealing with subjects ranging from gun control to health care.
He’s made a number of striking prognostications on political developments that have turned out to be true, like his prediction that Donald J. Trump would win the 2016 presidential election. Moore has regularly expressed on TV talk shows his virulent anti-Trump views and his fervid feelings about the direction the country is taking; whether one agrees with his ideas or not, they’re probably as well known as those of any other liberal pundit’s.
In The Terms of My Surrender he has taken his well-researched angst to the Broadway stage, holding forth in what is essentially a one-man show, supplemented by the unnecessary appearance of several other folks. While various sources say the show’s an intermissionless hour and a half, the Wednesday matinee I attended clocked in at nearly two hours and 15 minutes. This, I imagine, is largely because of a guest who appeared late in the show for a needless interview designed to emphasize Moore’s point that each of us can make a difference in fixing the horrible mess into which Trumpian politics have landed us.
The show begins with Moore standing before a wall of 13 horizontal stripes of what looks like wooden siding (set by David Rockwell; lights by Kevin Adams) but that projections (by Andrew Lazarow) can transform into an image of the American flag or use for other video images.
|Michael Moore. Photo: Joan Marcus.|
With a huge blowup of the president on the backdrop, he gets a nice laugh from his not-so-rhetorical question, “How the fuck did this happen?,” and then presents his familiar, carefully documented, comic jeremiad about how horrible Trump is. The diatribe lasts perhaps 20 minutes and the rest of the evening bounces freely from subject to subject.
There’s a routine about the 59 items, including dynamite and Muslims, that are banned by TSA regulations; stories about how he, a shy high school student, won a speaking contest with a speech about Abe Lincoln that he used to decimate the Elks Club sponsoring the competition, which led to a civil rights outcry against the organization’s whites-only policies; his successful run for membership on his school board as a way to retaliate against the practices of his school’s administrators; his postulating a Michael Moore for 2020 presidential candidacy; and so on.
He wastes too much time with a segment demonstrating the relative lack of knowledge of Americans when compared to Canadians. This involves inviting someone from each country to come on stage to compete in an innocuous quiz show, pitting an American with a high GPA against a Canadian with a lower one; at the performance I saw, the American won, negating the entire point Moore wanted to make.
|Michael Moore. Photo: Joan Marcus.|
Moore kvetches about the death threats he’s received for his stances, and castigates liberal journalists who have expressed views he rejects, reminds us of how Hitler rose to power in the face of skepticism, and urges the audience to speak out if they don’t want the same thing to happen here.
Of course, the Flint water disaster takes up lots of stage time, as does Moore’s insistence to his audience that each of them, in his or her own small way, do something to get rid of Trump. For all his preaching to the choir, though, the audience, apart from when it’s laughing, never once reacts with the vitriolic glee of Trump’s base at one of his rallies. The contrast is awesomely depressing.
Toward the end of the show I attended, a couple of chairs slid out and Moore interviewed a female singer from L.A. named Milck who wrote a song called “I Can’t Keep Quiet” she and other a capella singers performed at the Women’s March in Washington last year. We heard a snatch but it’s too bad the video, or one of the other versions on YouTube couldn’t be shown during the interminable talk about it.
He’s on Broadway, of course, so Moore and his director, Michael Mayer, choose to end the show with a musical routine imagining him as a contestant on “Dancing with the Starz,” which once actually invited him to be a participant. Replete with cops arriving to arrest him and then stripping down to star spangled jock straps to rock it Magic Mike-style, it brings The Terms of My Surrender to a rollicking but thoroughly irrelevant conclusion.
Moore is a compelling presence who knows how to play his audience but what he says in The Terms of My Surrender is too familiar to be consistently funny; we chuckle because it’s comforting to share our responses to what we’ve all heard before with an audience of like-minded people; apart, perhaps, from Moore’s personal stories, there’s little here most of us didn’t already know. Yet, even though the show’s a hodgepodge that’s all over the place, it’s still nice to share its pungency with others feeling the same pain. Misery loves company and there's plenty to go around these days.
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