In the nearly 30 years since his muckraking documentary Roger and Me made him famous, Michael Moore has perfectly honed his style of man-on-the-street reportage and progressive advocacy, including books (Downsize This!, Stupid White Men), television (TV Nation, The Awful Truth) and more documentaries, including Oscar winner Bowling for Columbine and Cannes Palme d’Or winner Fahrenheit 9/11.
Now he’s taken his act to Broadway, where, to put it mildly, he preaches to the already converted. But he doesn’t care: The Terms of My Surrender has the same strengths and weaknesses of Moore’s other work. The formula is the same: the shambling, baseball-cap wearing everyman walks onto the stage and begins his shtick, which includes corny, obvious jokes—like a game show that pits two audience members against each other, a so-called dumb Canadian and a so-called smart American—that alternate with on-target political satire and analysis.
Sure, he can be self-aggrandizing, but when he discusses himself, it’s in the context of what he sees as the greater good. For instance, in high school, he was the youngest ever member of the local Flint school board at age 17, and he shamed the Elks Lodge by winning an Abe Lincoln essay contest decrying the Elks as a whites-only institution. His point—and he has one—is that, in the age of Trump, if people are angry or shocked by what happened in November and what’s been happening since January, then there are things everyone can do to help ensure that the House and even the Senate flip in 2018 and the White House flips in 2020.
Moore knows his audience includes many people upset and embarrassed by Trump’s victory who nevertheless won’t do much to affect any meaningful change, so he tells stories, makes jokes and insults Trump to prod them to take matters into their own hands by making calls to their Congress people or running for local office or doing anything to help the country heal (not heel, as Trump’s tweets would have it) and move forward.
Of course, Michael Moore appearing on Broadway isn’t for everyone, and those people know who they are. But in Michael Mayer’s slick staging, the slightly overlong The Terms of My Surrender (the Dancing with the Stars finale has got to go!) is a funny, thoughtful and even cathartic time in the theater for anyone still stunned by the results of November 9.
The Terms of My Surrender
Written and performed by Michael Moore; directed by Michael Mayer
Performances through October 22, 2017
Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street, New York, NY
photo credit: Joan Marcus