Michael Moore: The Terms of My Surrender by Michael Moore
Belasco Theatre on West 44th Street
BS Rating: B
Show-Score Rating: 80
It’s a revival meeting with brother Moore preaching to a choir that believes it has lost its voice and cannot sing. That is what it is like to experience Michael Moore’s “The Terms of My Surrender.” The audience is self-selective, not unlike the audiences that flock to holy rollers. We come into the theatre knowing what to expect from the Prophet who predicted the victory of the devil Trump and he delivers.
But rather than wallow in self-pity or scream futile outrage, Moore is on a mission in his Broadway debut. Like the preacher, he is out to convert his believers into action. His message is about the power and responsibility of the individual. At the start of the meeting, he directs his audience to a website that makes it amazingly easy to phone their representatives with daily directive messages. He does not let his congregation escape responsibility by blaming the current fall from grace on those misguided people who “live between the Hudson River and La Cienega Boulevard.” “We let it happen,” he declares.
For Mr. Moore, we need to take responsibility for allowing the extreme voices to go unchallenged among the people who are listening to those voices. We cannot sit back and say, “we’ll let Rachel Maddow or Elizabeth Warren take care of that.”
Moore’s approach is to illustrate each of his points with a recollection of his personal experiences. So, he plays a recording of Glenn Beck: “I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore.” Beck muses, “And I’m wondering if I could kill him myself or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. I think I could…is that wrong?” Well, yes, it is! And Moore wants us to combat this type of hate speech. He does not want to arouse the masses; he wants to motivate the individual. So, he explains how, as a teenager, he got himself elected to the local school board because he objected to the high school’s corporal punishment policy. When Ronald Reagan went to Germany during his presidency and he decided to lay a wreath at a cemetery for dead Nazi’s, Moore and his Jewish friend who lost family in the Holocaust went to Germany and infiltrated the press to raise a protest sign in front the then-President Reagan.
Some have taken this personal story approach to be “bragging” or self-aggrandizing. But that criticism misses Mr. Moore’s point. These stories are designed to show his congregants that each one of them, as single person, can make a difference. As with his acclaimed documentaries, Moore establishes a direct relationship with his audience. When he sits in his lounge chair or at his desk, we feel like we are alone in a room with our down-to-earth but witty friend.
As an almost one-man show, there are times when things seem to drag a bit and other times where Moore and director Michael Mayer mistakenly try to “Broadway-ize” the presentation. For me, the long and detailed description of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis was way too drawn out. Yes, it’s a perfect example of the “we let it happen” accusation. But putting that lengthily (and fairly well-known) report toward the end of the of the show’s two hours was a strain. In a sort of 10:15 number, there is a glitzy quiz show that pits American and Canadian audience members against each other with questions about their respective countries. It’s the one of the two times that the show breaks with the one-on-one relationship between Moore and the audience and it felt out of place.
The other break occurs at the end of the show with a rather silly “finale,” but I will avoid a spoiler except to say that there is little that is silly about the rest of Mr. Moore’s on-the-mark musings. They are insightful, frequently funny, and definitely worth heeding, even when he appears to be rambling. It’s not surprising that so many viewers have described “The Terms of My Surrender” as uplifting in a time that has so little that is positive or comforting. But then, isn’t that exactly why the preacher preaches and the congregation responds, “hallelujah and amen”?