Review: ‘Mercy Killers’ at Taffety Punk Theatre Company

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Joe in Michael Milligan’s one-man show Mercy Killers is, indeed, your average Joe: he listens to Rush Limbaugh, he works on cars as a mechanic, he has no college degree, and (yes) he probably would have voted for Donald Trump and the Republican agenda on health care.

Michael Milligan, actor and playwright. Photo by Marcus Kyd.

Mercy Killers packs a punch for a DC-bred audience. Born in Chicago with its working class sensibility, it gives DC’s lawyer-rich populace a glimpse into how the other 90% live.

As the houselights go black, sirens begin to wail; spotlights catch a bewildered figure turning right, left, facing forward; a man in a red baseball cap with his head down stands before us: Joe.

Milligan plays Joe, giving him a working class authenticity rarely seen on DC stages. There is nothing metrosexual about him. He’s all head-rubbing, jaw-clenching, and bursts of temper.

What really sets Joe apart, however, and where Milligan’s script is at its best, is when Joe speaks about the love of his life, his better-half, his wife Jane.

Putting aside the play’s complicated metrics on healthcare and home loans and (god-forbid) derivatives, when this script sticks to its heart it’s all golden.

The police pull Joe in for questioning; thus, the whole monologue is Joe’s attempt to explain to a detective why the EMTs found him cradling his dead ex-wife in his arms.

Given the play’s title, the suspense is not in the “what happened” but in the “how we got there.”

Milligan, with well-orchestrated direction by Tom Oppenheim, keeps the intense performance varied and lively, as the character shifts back, forth, and sideways among anger, remorse, frustration, blame, and love, never once dwelling too long in any one state of being.

Lighting by Katie McCreary is simple and always on point.

Mercy Killers, which opened last night at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, is the first salvo in a two-play Michael Milligan repertory with Side Effects. A joint production between Taffety Punk Theatre Company and the newly formed Poor Box Theater (Milligan’s own), the play couldn’t be a more apropos merger between the two theaters’ artistic visions.

It’s theatre for all, or at least for that other 90% who rarely see themselves portrayed on DC stages. Chicago is a different story.

Running Time: 65 minutes with, no intermission.

Mercy Killers plays through June 3, 2017, at Taffety Punk Theatre Company, performing at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop – 545 7th Street, SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them  online.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Poet, Performer, Theatre Artist, Playwright, Educator, Writer--Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., has been involved in the DC arts scene since the 1980s, when he co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in the old sanctuary of Calvary United Methodist Church. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theatre from University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theatre as a reviewer over the last two years than he saw in the previous thirty. He now co-directs, along with his wife Elizabeth Bruce, the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project, which organizes a host of writing and performance workshops, plus Mementos: Poetry and Performance for Seniors, a yearly literature-in-performance Fringe Festival show, as well as Performetry--a monthly poetry and prose performance event at DC's community arts & culture center BloomBars.