Mercy Killers

The One-Man Show performed by Michael Milligan

Reviews and Testimonials from the road….

Reviews, Quotes, Awards for Michael Milligan’s Mercy Killers

2013 Fringe First Award- Edinburgh.

 “A pre-Obamacare study from 2009 found that a large percentage of Americans are one serious illness away from financial ruin. This gripping hour-long monologue by writer-performer Michael Milligan details precisely how it might happen… Milligan is riveting, conveying a fascinating mix of decency, heartbreak, and impotent fury.” Chicago Reader

“Mercy Killers puts a human face on the healthcare debate. It’s thought-provoking, particularly as the debate rages on in Texas.” Dallas Morning News

“A simple but powerful call for change.” New City Stage, Chicago.

“  ‘Mercy Killers’ is a provocative and  raw emotional account of the consequences of a medical catastrophe in a family : loss of insurance and home; divorcing a loved one to benefit from indigent care; loss of dignity and moral compass; and most importantly, loss of a precious life. This fictional account is in fact the daily reality in our cancer clinics: patients losing their insurance coverage for technicalities, losing their homes because of inability to pay for mortgages, considering divorcing spouses to be eligible for indigent care, doing anything possible to saves their lives, and often dying from lack of ideal care when one already exists but is not affordable to many”—Hagop M. Kantarjian, M.D. Chairman, Department of Leukemia, MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Texas

“A meticulously written and acted passionate and portentous theater event So glad it was here.” Michael Kahn, Artistic Director, The Shakespeare Theater, Washington D.C.

“Milligan is both John Steinbeck and Tom Joad, for Mercy Killers is a veritable Grapes of Wrath of the 21st century for ordinary Americans who find themselves bankrupted by forces beyond their control.” The Cracked Shamrock, Erie, PA.


“Michael Milligan’s fantastic and deeply emotional performance aptly dramatized the problems of our healthcare system. Milligan puts the struggle into stark human terms with all the dyer effects. Milligan is a polished performer and this is riveting theatre.” Chicago Critic

“Beautiful and Heartbreaking.” Teresa Eyring, Executive Director TCG, American Theatre Magazine. March 2014 issue, “The Actor Activist.”

“Milligan gives the facts and figures an achingly human face, playing a small-town auto mechanic who’s a regular Joe both by name and character—until his wife is diagnosed with cancer. Mercy Killers stands as painful witness to one story and one moment in the history of it all—a history we hope, someday, to be seeing in the rear-view mirror.” Theater Jones, Texas Tour.

“Wow! We were so honored to have this touching and heartfelt performance at Mercyhurst. An inspiration to so many.” David Dausey, Director, Mercyhurst Institute of Public Health

“Michael Milligan’s one person performance of Mercy Killers is a thought provoking portrayal of the enormous complexities of the health care system.  As the story twists and turns – you find yourself hoping that there will be a good outcome – but in the end the only reality that you are left with is that our health care system is flawed if not completely broken.  As an health care administrator most of my career, it made me want to go to work the next day and continue to strive for the ‘fix’ and to ensure Joe and Jane’s story is played out differently in real life. “ Charles “Boo” Hagerty, Vice President, Northern Tier Markets, UPMC Health Plan

“Every audience member will be moved by this story of a young couple alone with their illness and of the purity of a husband’s devotion to his wife. Anyone concerned with preserving the autonomy and agency of those who are beset with illness, who wishes relief and restoration as defined by patient and family to guide striving for beneficence, and who sees justice as prerequisite to achieving these goals, will be particularly moved.” Alan J. Snyder, Ph.D., Vice President and Associate Provost for Research and Graduate Studies, Lehigh University

“The best theater kicks down walls, pulls off the gloves and starts swinging. Mercy Killers is that kind of play.” How was the play, Minneapolis

‘There’s a marvelous and mysterious kind of alchemy at work in author and actor Michael Milligan’s mesmerizing, harrowing indictment of US healthcare. Not only is it theatre distilled to its most basic essentials- one ordinary individual telling his story, as if to an invisible interrogator, his only props a table and chair- but it’s unambiguously specific in its objectives to attack a system responsible for more than 60 percent of US personal bankruptcies…. It’s also fuelled by profound outrage, and yet all these elements are so skillfully and meticulously controlled, in both the writing and performance, so thoroughly transmuted in service of storytelling, drama, and characterization, that the effect is gripping first and foremost on a painfully human level, even as Milligan simultaneously delves beneath the foreground issues to the personal and national philosophies underlying the debate stateside….Despite flashes of righteous anger, too, among the myriad emotions at work in Milligan’s superbly nuanced portrayal, it’s perhaps most heartbreaking of all that Joe’s adherence to the traditional US credo of self-reliance leads him ultimately to blame himself.’ The Scotsman, 5 Stars. Edinburgh Fringe

“The story is told as much with gestures as with words that come flying out like flushed birds. Even his incomplete sentences are telling. “Mercy Killers” is a raw, topical piece that shows the collision of ideals and reality in a system where health and well-being go up against profits. It is a show that is very much of the zeitgeist.” Star Tribune, Minneapolis.

“The play Obamacare needs.” The Daily Beast

“Shattering.” The Stage, Edinburgh Fringe

“Mercy Killers is poignant, thought provoking, moving, heart wrenching. It is amazing to me that Michael Milligan could grasp, write and portray all the complex emotions and issues. I encourage everyone, no matter what state you live in, to go see this exquisite work of art. Bravo! “ Cindy Ivanhoe, M.D. Attending Physician, TIRR Memorial Hermann ,  Associate Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.” The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School

“Milligan’s performance is terrific.” Theater Pizazz

“Exceptional. In our ever present day of political discourse, finger pointing, and profitable racket over healthcare, Milligan manages to strip down the arguments by humanizing them to a frustrating, but immensely profound degree.” Manhattan Digest

“…the well-constructed “Mercy Killers” is nimbler than its hot-button subjects suggest. Milligan studs the script with little mysteries that propel the play forward: Why does Joe claim prison would be a relief? Why is he so defensive about his marriage? And, with the instincts of a veteran actor, he gives the piece a classic structure that crescendos in a final outpouring of pain in a raw, immediate performance…. It’s a tricky job, making political issues feel both dramatic and specific, but Milligan pulls it off. And by the end, with Woody Guthrie songs echoing ironically in the theater, he succeeds in making us question whether this land is still made for you and me.” Pioneer Press, Twin Cities

Drama sheds light on the darkness that is the US healthcare system. Take time. Make time. See Mercy Killers.”

“The tragedy of a death accelerated by inadequate healthcare coverage goes far beyond the pain and suffering of the victim. That is the heart-wrenching statement made by Mercy Killers. This is not a typical night at the theater.” Star-Telegram, Ft. Worth.

“Raw, emotional and devastatingly honest. When Joe’s wife is diagnosed with cancer and the health insurance company refuses to pay, his life and his beliefs begin to fall apart. Broadway actor Michael Milligan’s solo show gives an insight into the destructive personal impact of the American health care system. It makes public the private stories of thousands of Americans and shows an urgent need for change in a system failing so many. His performance is incredibly powerful and passionate, sweeping the audience up in Joe’s story; making them laugh sometimes and bringing them to the edge of tears at others. Milligan has written a beautifully moving and thought-provoking piece that will leave you feeling a mixture of thankful, angered and saddened.” Three Weeks, 5 Stars, Edinburgh Fringe

“At one point during “Mercy Killers” I found myself with my hand to my mouth, and tears in my eyes, as the tragedy of the play’s central character, played so credibly and movingly by Michael Milligan, came to a particular climax. This play is like a classic Greek myth, it could happen to anybody…anybody not rich enough to buy their way out that is. There is a horrifying simplicity, familiarity, to the events that lead to the destruction of this working man’s life. You feel a deep brotherhood with him and this is what makes the play so very moving. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys great acting and drama which truthfully and faithfully reflects this world we live in. It will most certainly leave you thinking how did we get here and where are we going to go now.” Mark Rylance, Actor, playwright, poet, director

“At the centre of Michael Milligan’s one man show is not just a searing indictment of the US healthcare system but also a surprisingly tender love story. It is a combination perfectly judged to affect the audience, to break through prejudices and politics straight to the core. Mercy Killers also stands out, however, as some of the best theatre at the Fringe.” TV Bomb, Edinburgh Fringe

“…a captivating stage presence that lends thought-provoking weight and heart breaking sorrow in equal measure to some of the exceptional writing’s many moving moments. With a stage that is bare but for a chair and table and no other bodies to bounce energy from it is remarkable Milligan can create the dynamics he does. More remarkable still is that the piece is riveting for all 70 minutes.” The Public Reviews, NYC

“This is a wonderfully executed piece of political theatre, focusing not on those in power, but choosing instead to shine a light on the reality of the people are suffering and dying through lack of care. It highlights the flaws in a system which is only useful for those who can afford its privileges. This is one man theatre at its very best and is something the fringe should embrace with gusto. If you love to be challenged by the theatre you’re watching and leave the theatre willing to ask the questions that make a difference then Mercy Killers is a shining example of provocative theatre and production you don’t want to miss out on.” Brett Herriot, Broadway Baby, Edinburgh Fringe

“Milligan does not so much play the role of Joe as he becomes Joe. This complete transformation changes our relationship to the action on stage in some extreme, intangible ways… the intensity of both the acting and the play’s themes packs a serious punch into a short amount of time. As the self-made man is confronted by a merciless sociocultural machine, the political message is strong and timely – but the human implications are what knock us off our feet.” Aisle Say Twin Cities.

“Boldly and wonderfully acted, the play left many audience members in tears, inspiring both compassion and a sense of the need for change. Milligan, a Broadway actor and Ohio State University alum, is currently on tour performing his act in cooperation with SPAN Ohio in order to advocate health care reform in the United States. His play, first and foremost, is an attempt to speak out on behalf of the gross numbers of individuals who have spiraled into bankruptcy as a result of medical debt. In performance, however, Milligan does much more than this. With an eye toward individualism and the American dream, Mercy Killers ultimately calls for—much more than medical reform—reform of the values that comprise our culture today.” Aaron Smith, ARTS/West Blog

“…an emotionally compelling rollercoaster of a ride, thoroughly convincing in its evocation of Joe, a good-old boy auto-mechanic from small-town south-eastern Ohio who has pretty much always played by the rules, never asked for hand-outs, prided himself on his independence and, as his buying into the auto-shop makes clear, has been fueled all along by his determination to make something of himself for the great love of his life, his wife Jane. Until, that is, Jane is diagnosed with cancer and everything starts to unravel. The human cost of this devastating development is wrenching as Michael Milligan explores Joe’s feelings of guilt for having somehow not done enough to prevent things unfolding as they did, but the dramatic momentum of the monologue derives from its ringing indictment of the American health-care system, which bankrupts the couple.” Andy Spencer, Editor, Communications from the International Brecht Society

“The one-man play’s message is that America’s health-care system leaves people vulnerable to physical and financial ruin. And that’s true even if they have health insurance. Fortunately, Ohio State alum Milligan is a thespian rather than a clergyman. As a result, the play is much more than a glorified sermon. Two things work in the play’s favor. First, it’s filled with details that are both plausible and relatable. And second, Milligan is a very good actor, allowing him to breathe touching reality into Joe’s and Jane’s plight.” Richard Ades, Columbus Theater.

“Milligan deftly portrays Joe’s anger and frustration, as he ricochets from sadness to confusion, and tries unsuccessfully to reconcile his long-held right-wing beliefs with his personal experience.” The Columbus Dispatch

“The poignant drama cuts to the chase: healthcare is a human right, not a commodity. The incredible strength of the performance is the character development of “Joe” the apple-pie loving, Rush Limbaugh listening, blue-collar worker who struggles with the uniquely American experience of losing your health in the land of plenty. Milligan’s performance strips away the polarization of the political debate and opens the door for real conversation as to “how can this be happening here.” Joanne Boyer, Wisdom Voices

 It’s a heartbreaking story… unquestionably moving…. Milligan is enormously likable as an actor….” Loren Noveck,

“All of the detailed charts and policy discussions in the world can’t have the same emotional impact of a well-told story. Playwright and performer Michael Milligan proves that thoroughly in his one-man show, Mercy Killers, now playing at Pillsbury House Theatre. Through blue-collar Joe, Milligan puts an all-too-human face on the American health-care crisis. More importantly, from a theatrical standpoint at least, Milligan crafts a fully realized character that comes to life in all of his complexity during the one-hour show.” City Pages, Minneapolis

Michael Milligan’s “Mercy Killers” is a powerful play that illustrates the urgency of replacing our dysfunctional health insurance system.  In this painfully accurate portrayal of the personal struggles of one couple, Milligan makes public the suffering that thousands of American families experience in private.   I was inspired by the performance, and energized to move our state from health insurance for some, to health care for all. John Marty, State Senator, MN.

 “Michael Milligan’s breath-taking performance of a shattered man in the throes of a healthcare nightmare, made only worse by the twists and turns of insurance companies, truly humanizes the vast inequities of America’s for profit health insurance system. You will be talking about ‘Mercy Killers’ long after the curtain draws.” Josh Starcher, Health Care Now-NY.

“In one spellbinding hour, Milligan manages to spotlight what is wrong withour health care system: capricious coverage, error-prone treatments, and unreasonable costs that ultimately affect us all.” Jacqueline H. Wolf, Professor and Department Chair, Department of Social Medicine, Ohio University.

“Michael Milligan’s play Mercy Killers is a powerful indictment of our failed health care system and its cruelty.  Caring citizens should protect and empower each other.  We can fix the health care system by covering everyone under and improved and expanded Medicare for all and Michael’s play should inspire us all to fight even harder for health care justice.  Johnathon Ross, MD MPH, Past President of Physicians for a National Health Program

 “A powerful play that’s all too real.” Laura Boylan, Physicians for a National Health Program.

“As a long-time advocate for meaningful healthcare reform, I found a refreshing perspective in ‘Mercy Killers’. When focusing on policy, it can be easy to lose sight of the actual plight faced by real people. The play provides a very personal look at the blameless catastrophe many average Americans face when they become ill. As a doctor, I have amassed plenty of my own horror stories of patient suffering. I was surprised I could be this affected by yet another. However, Milligan’s acting is superb, and I was completely engrossed in the story from beginning to end. The tale he weaves brings you into the middle of a needless, mind-numbing tragedy that should never happen in a country as wealthy as ours. It has power that facts and figures will never offer. Regardless of political persuasion or beliefs about how to fix the healthcare mess, audience members will leave the performance deeply moved and in agreement that we simply cannot leave things as they are.” Ann Settgast, MD
Co-chair, Minnesota chapter of Physicians for a National Healthcare Program

 “Michael Milligan’s Mercy Killers is a powerful teaching tool to deliver the emotional impact of how our health care system chews up and spits out so many Americans. This masterfully written and performed play displays the agonizing, dehumanizing suffering needlessly imposed on decent people by a system that turns health care into a market commodity instead of a basic human right. Mercy Killers poignantly demonstrates how rugged individualism can’t compete with diseases and expenses that can strike down anyone.” BUDDY ROBINSON, CO-COORDINATOR, GREATER MINNESOTA HEALTH CARE COALITION

 “Health care is very personal and emotional. Mercy Killers brings this home in many different ways. I was thinking about it for days afterwards.” Walter Tsou, MD, MPH, former Health Commissioner of Philadelphia

 “What I find incredibly interesting in the play is the conflict that goes on between Joe’s beliefs and the reality that he is living. Mercy Killers does a masterful job bringing that conflict to life. I remember one Ayn Rand fan that I was talking to about health care. She finally put her arms around her head and over her ears and said, “Please stop. You are making too much sense and it isn’t what I believe.”   Beliefs are strong and hard to penetrate, even when reality hits us in the face. Mercy Killers cuts through beliefs and ideology and speaks to the heart.” Debbie Silverstein, Executive Director, Single Payer Action Network-Ohio.

 “Michael’s work is an extremely effective way of engaging people in understanding this issue on a fundamental level.  I am reminded of the work of linguist George Lakoff (“Don’t Think of an Elephant”)  who explains that people are touched and moved by stories.  “Mercy Killers” contributes mightily to our efforts for health care reform.” Bob Mason, LCSW, CEAP, President, Health Care 4 All PA

“We invited Michael to tour throughout the state with the play.  We reached people in every walk of life with his powerful performance that showed the human impact of the dysfunctional U.S. healthcare system. Over the period of two weeks, the play was seen in working class communities, urban settings, mountain towns, and on college campuses.  In every instance, Michael was able to make the program breathe life into the often somber subject around which our non-profit organization educates our fellow Coloradans. 

At one venue, former Colorado Governor Richard Lamm attended the play and was deeply moved and impressed by “Mercy Killers.”  Equally meaningful were the interactions with so many people who learned from the show. If we are to make significant change in the systems upon which we all rely for secure, decent lives, efforts like Michael’s will surely advance the timetable and prevent a great deal of suffering.” Donna Smith,
Executive director, Health Care for All Colorado

“What Milligan is able to create so masterfully with this play is a space where the inanity and partisanship of “acceptable” political discourse is not only immediately challenged, it is successfully refuted, creating a moment of moral clarity that is sadly too rare, yet essential to move our nation forward. We strongly support Milligan’s creative efforts, and are grateful for his warmth, dedication to the craft, and effectiveness.  The merger of Milligan’s example of the arts with our grassroots efforts is one whose effectiveness we are convinced of, and which we hope we can see more of across the country.” Sergio España
Statewide Organizer
Healthcare is a Human Right – Maryland

Every now and then a play is so skillfully crafted and beautifully acted that it has the ability to open hearts and minds. Like Ali Baba opening a cave to a treasure, Michael Milligan’s “Mercy Killers” opens a door to a world that is hard-edged in a way that is compelling, soft but not overly sentimental. “Mercy Killers” rings of truth. It is good theater.   Deborah Sacarakis, Artistic Director, Zoelner Arts Center, Lehigh University

 “Michael Milligan spent three exceptionally productive days on the Lehigh University campus. He visited classes, worked with students, talked with faculty and offered two powerful performances. In addition, he participated in post-performance panel discussions that featured campus and community leaders connected with the health care industry. Comments from audience members and residency participants indicated that this was one of the most powerful programs we have sponsored. It was a joy to present, a transformative experience for many.”   Deborah Sacarakis, Artistic Director, Zoelner Arts Center, Lehigh University

“Milligan’s high-octane performance is raw with grief, rage and incomprehension. The stark set—a chair, a bright light and a table—highlights Joe’s loneliness, inadequacy and abandonment. And by the end of the play, a for-profit health care system that is responsible for more than 60 percent of all U.S. bankruptcies is no longer just a matter of statistics. Its reality is felt like the blast of a furnace.” Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize co-recipient, Best Selling Author, Truth Dig.

 “In Mercy Killers Michael Milligan tells profound truths about the inhuman US healthcare system. Weaving a gripping personal story into a powerful portrayal of working class suffering during the Great Recession, Milligan reveals the painful impacts of profit-driven health insurance.” Michael Lighty, Public Policy Director, National Nurses United.

“Michael captured the essence of issues that families struggle with every day in a way that fully engaged the audience and brought us into his pain.  This left an indelible impression on my students some of which came up to my office to thank me for making them attend.  It will provide a stimulating conversation in class but more importantly it brought to light issues that our future nurses can now acknowledge. Please continue to move your message forward.  It should be viewed by every member of our legislative body.  We must come to acknowledge the crisis that is current in our healthcare system and move from there toward a system that provides equity of healthcare for every citizen.” Dr. Bonnie Parker, Shepherd’s College, School of Nursing.


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