If liberal activist and filmmaker Michael Moore thought his Broadway play -- entitled The Terms of My Surrender -- would draw rave reviews from fellow progressives who would be “galvanized” into taking out Republican President Donald Trump, he was sadly mistaken.
While New York Times theater critic Jesse Green claimed the play, which opened on Thursday at the Belasco theater, “is a bit like being stuck at Thanksgiving dinner with a garrulous, self-regarding, time-sucking uncle,” Peter Marks of the Washington Post asserted that “Michael Moore should leave Broadway to the pros.”
Green tried to soften the blow by noting:
Don’t get me wrong: Mr. Moore has led an exemplary life of progressive activism, both in the trenches and as a filmmaker.
His early movies … represent an impish moral intelligence at its most incisive. It helps that he chose good targets and had an ear for irony.
“Still, you don’t have to disagree with Mr. Moore’s politics to find that his shtick has become disagreeable with age,” the reviewer continued. “He wants to help liberals turn their Post Traumatic Trump Disorder into practical action.”
However, the play “is not organized well enough” and “falls short of offering seriously useful ideas about how individuals can make a difference,” Green claimed. “Such a character would be easier to dismiss if his stated motive for appearing on Broadway were not so timely.”
“But,” the reviewer stated, “even when Mr. Moore turns his attention to more recent and generally compelling matters, as in a long, impassioned segment about the water crisis in Flint, Mich., you sense that he is enjoying his dudgeon too much.”
“To make up for this,” Green noted, “Mr. Moore affects a cute, common-man delivery that fools no one, though the crowd at the Belasco, including a few shills, claps for almost all of the bait he tosses.”
“These moments suggest a thinking failure of his own," the New York Times reviewer noted, "a failure to examine the inept moral equivalences and disguised elitism inherent in his brand of provocation. The result is as confusing politically as it is theatrically."
“Audiences hoping for a bit of feel-good liberal therapy, let alone a good show, may be disappointed to find that Mr. Moore isn’t very interested in them,” Green concluded. “He’s not preaching to the choir: He’s bragging to it.”
Marks also takes several shots at the creator of the production: “For those who imagine a fine line exists between activism and entertainment, Michael Moore has arrived on Broadway to demonstrate how unbreachable that line in the wrong hands can be.”
The Post reviewer called the play a “sloppy concoction” that is “less a jaunty excursion than an unvarnished ego trip” and “a slog through cringe-inducing skits and only occasionally engaging anecdotes about Moore’s stumble into the life of a political gadfly.”
Marks agreed with Green that Moore’s life is “of no small consequence, and under other circumstances, one could envision an evening of illuminating stories, tautly and perhaps charmingly assembled.”
However, the Post reviewer had sharp words of criticism for the activist’s effort when compared to his first film, Roger and Me, in which Moore attacked General Motors Chief Executive Officer Roger Smith after the company suddenly closed the doors of all its auto plants in Flint, Michigan, the city where he grew up.
The classic device Moore employed so winningly in that movie and, to varying degrees, in follow-up films over the years, was that of the little guy going up against venal and corrupt institutions on behalf of other little guys.
But in The Terms of My Surrender, directed by Tony winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening), Moore commits the fatal error of a premise in which now, he’s become the big guy.
“So along with a few decent, if self-aggrandizing, stories, about how as a teenager he earned fame railing against racism in the Elks Club and won election to the local school board,” the reviewer stated, “we are subjected to a score-settling rant about right-wing talker Glenn Beck, who, on a tape Moore replays, once mused on-air about the murder of Moore.”
“In one of the production’s more vulgar low points,” Marks indicated, “Moore purports to create a kind of imitation of Beck’s action, dialing up the office of [Democratic] New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and leaving a death threat on voice mail.”
"Offering up as a model his history as a provocateur, Moore implores us to get off our duffs and drive Trump nuts,” the reviewer asserted. “We have to be a swarm of bees around his head,” the liberal activist declared at one point.
When even your fellow liberals demolish your attempt to inspire people to take out the Republican president, that’s a bad sign -- even for a left-wing activist and filmmaker like Moore.