by Julia Polinsky
of what you think of his opinions, Michael Moore can really tell a story that
touches the heart. If you thought that The Terms of My Surrender would
be all politics, politics, politics and no heart, think again.
the moment he enters in front of the giant American flag filling the whole rear
stage of the Belasco and utters the ominous question: “How The F*ck Did This
Happen?” it’s clear that Moore is hauling out his trademark persona and beating
his favorite horse. It’s not dead yet, that horse, and with this show, he gives
it significant backstory.
story. And story. He spends part of the show standing before that huge flag,
talking. As he tells story after story, the flag changes color and visuals,
morphing to suit what Moore’s talking about.
it displays the President’s face; sometimes, a photo of Moore in one political
action or another, sometimes books. Sometimes, fading to black. Sometimes, all
blue; sometimes, shades of red. You get the idea. Scenic designer David
Rockwell and projections designer Andrew Lazarow have used that huge flag as a
giant canvas to cue the audience what to feel: anger, grief, unity, outrage.
set design is so slick, and so well integrated into the show, that it’s not
hard to imagine how potentially boring two hours of listening to Moore bloviate could be without the set. Be grateful for a stage that has moving
parts, so a podium can be center stage, then disappear and Moore
can move over to a desk that slides in stage left. He talks; the desk slides
away, and we’re back to the podium. Then from the other side, a comfy chair
shows up, and Moore works the room from there. Moving from micro-set to
micro-set breaks up the possible monotony of listening to The Message,
relentlessly pounded into our ears.
Michael Mayer has given Moore a slack rein; with an improviser like this, he’d
be silly not to. Moore is no fool, and one of the best motivators of a crowd
you can imagine. That aw-shucks, laid off Midwestern GM Plant worker, the
splayfooted hulking presence with his gimme cap and his glasses, is one of the
most perfectly crafted personas in modern life. What director would interfere?
Moore is, of course,
preaching to the choir, in this show; judging by audience reaction, pretty much
everyone there has the same politics he does. Given that unity of feeling, why
bother going through the tedium, expense, and aggravation of mounting a Broadway
show, with its implication that there will be a Show, not just a lecture? To
entertain? Always, with him, but so what? To provoke? Um, provoke to what?
Terms of My Surrender is a call to action. Yes, it’s entertaining; he’s a
gifted storyteller, and some of the stories are enchanting. He’s a showman, and
inserts a game show (hilarious), a hypothetical campaign rally (funny and
thought provoking), and some unexpected Broadway-style razzle dazzle here and
most of all, he’s a hugely successful provocateur, and can move a despairing
audience to be activists. Underneath the tales he tells, the message rings loud
and clear: one person, doing one small thing, can make a big change.
the show’s end, you could hear audience members in the aisles and outside the
Belasco talking with optimism and dedication about starting tomorrow to do One
Small Thing. That’s a huge success for Moore. Is it politics? Or is it
Broadway? In this case, the answer is yes.
Moore: The Terms of My Surrender at the Belasco Theatre
West 44th Street
New York, NY 10019