"The American Mercy Tour Review"- A double bill at The Greenhouse Theater Center

“The American Mercy Tour: Mercy Killers and Side Effects”, written by and starring Michael Milligan and directed by Tom Oppenheim is currently being presented as back-to-back, one-act, one-person, one-hour plays at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln through October 8th.

 A joint production of Greenhouse Theater Center and Poor Box Theater in association with Taffety Punk Theatre Company of Washington D.C., the dual presentation was written by Milligan “in response to a number of personal encounters with the healthcare system”.  “Mercy Killers” and “Side Effects” are both portraits of a man’s despair- but the first is a terrifying journey through a tormented relationship, wheras the second seems more to be existential 21st Century entitlement overtaken by ennui.

Michael Milligan as a tormented husband in "Mercy Killers"; photo by Marcus Kyd


In “Mercy Killers”, a blue-collar auto mechanic is being interrogated by an off-stage police officer about his wife’s death; his impassioned and tormented description of her illness, their joint travail, and their financial ruin are stark, raw, and moving up to a point. Then they become a one-note badinage that provokes the desire in the audience for relief; think what they must engender in those who go through such events!


Michael Milligan as a frustrated physician in "Side Effects"; photo by Teresa Castracane

“Side Effects” is another piece of theater entirely. A doctor, fed up with paperwork and bureaucracy, who has made an error that amounts to fatal malpractice, whines at his lawyer while getting drunk. He reminisces about how his dad, the good old GP, practiced medicine in “the old days”. This piece of theater is far less sympathetic than its earlier counterpart, and probably much less accurate a portrayal. The mistake this doctor bitterly bemoans- his misreading of an EKG- could never have occurred- such test results are read by technicians first, then cardiologists, before they come back to the ordering physician. Similarly, the sheaf of papers he throws about and blames for usurping patient time must have been unearthed from a different era- patient’s charts exist within computers.


Actor/playwright Michael Milligan in "Mercy Killers"; photo by Marcus Kyd

This joint production is a quintessentially American commentary on an American phenomenon. It presents a deeply personal look at two fictional composite lives bitterly and negatively impacted by the way that system affects both recipients of care and caregivers. Milligan has a keen ear for the nuances of frustration and is clearly invested in the roles he portrays. At times, the audience is brought almost too closely into the despair and crushing depersonalization being performed on the sparse stage sets. Just as there is no relief for his characters, there is no other action for the viewer to absorb-we are forced to attend to the tragedy presented in “Mercy Killers” and awful loss of self-esteem presented in “Side Effects”.


Actor/playwright Michael Milligan in "Side Effects"; photo by Teresa Castracane

Milligan is a good writer and a gifted actor. He knew his material thoroughly, intimately and presented it with a depth of confidence and conviction, owning the stage the entire time. If the 2 characters he portrayed seemed like mirror images of each other, this is a product of his intention as much as it is inevitable; they both sprang from the same source- our fractured health-care system.


For information and tickets to all the fine performances at the Greenhouse Theater Center, go Greenhouse Theater Center  website   




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