Written and Performed by Michael Moore
Directed by Michael Mayer
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Michael Moore is without doubt an iconic figure. Mr. Moore’s “The Terms of My Surrender,” currently playing a limited engagement at the Belacso Theatre, dispels any doubt about his archetypal status. Near the end of the lengthy two-hour and twenty-five-minute monologue (with a guest and some needless dancing and questionable – though pleasurable – stripping male “police officers”), Michael Moore delivers what amounts to his “topic sentence.” “My terms of surrender are I cannot live in America while Donald Trump is President.”
Listening to Michael Moore suggest “How We Got Here” and eleven other survival or recovery steps is gratifying and energizing. It would be better to hear more of Mr. Moore’s engaging stories with less interruption. There is no need for hearing the story about Harper-Collins refusing (initially) to publish his 2001 “Stupid White Men” and then listening to the same story told by his guest who was unwittingly responsible for getting the publisher to back down. A retired Englewood, NJ librarian, the guest spent an extended period telling the audience about the importance of libraries and the danger of defunding under the Trump budget. The defunding is important and part of Moore’s anti-Trump rant. However, it does not take almost a half-hour to make that important point. Perhaps director Michael Mayer can work with Moore to contain the monologue and guest to the announced two-hour run time.
In that time, more stories like the following could have been shared: at 17, after his father refused to fill out an application for membership in the local Elks Lodge because the Lodge was for “whites only,” Moore managed to force the Elks to change their membership policy; a year later, he won a seat on his local school board and spearheaded the firing of the tyrannical principle and vice-principal at his high school; and in November 1984, he and a friend managed to confront Ronald Reagan at the Bitburg Military Cemetery where Nazi-SS soldiers were buried. The emotional story of the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan came at the end of the “overlong” performance and did not have the desired effect for change.
In short, the effect of Michael Moore’s monologue is a significant contribution to the discussion about what Americans can and should do to in the current political upheaval since Donald Trump’s “win.” It is important, for example to know that “Donald Trump has outsmarted us all” and “We need to sober up” if any meaningful resistance is to occur. If anything could strengthen Michael Moore’s persuasive monologue, it would be more rhetorical logos and ethos. How do his important stories relate directly to the “outsmarting” of America by the current president? And how do his compelling stories connect to the culture of America and the audience?
Michael Moore’s “The Terms of My Surrender” is a call to action, a call to cease all somnambulant behavior, a call to action while there is still time. Is there a way for Mr. Moore and for America to sustain its terms of surrender?