The theater is something of a religion, and the venerable Belasco Theater does look a little like a church. So, professional kvetch Michael Moore and his savvy director, Michael Mayer, made a wise choice in booking this vintage Broadway house for the limited run of Moore’s one-man revival-tent show, “The Terms of My Surrender.”
Standing alone on stage in his signature sneakers and beat-up baseball cap – and with a giant American flag at his back — Moore fires up the faithful to revolt against Trumpland and other indignities of our mad, mad world. (“We’re in the French Resistance, now!”) But for someone who thrives on righteous political indignation through books, tv shows, and especially his award-winning film documentaries like “Bowling for Columbine” and “Roger & Me,” he makes his revolutionary pitch with surprising sweetness.
Yes, Moore is angry about the election that coughed up Donald J. Trump. In fact, he wants to declare the anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation a national holiday “to remind us that presidents can be removed.” But although he charms the audience into a group sing, he’s determined not to preach to the choir, preferring to make his political points through stealth, in a variety of comedic forms.
In one standup comedy routine, he reads off a wonderfully absurd list of items – including power drills and cattle prods — that an airline brochure specifically warns passengers not to carry onto their planes. Moving into satire, he plays the host of “Stump the Canadian,” a TV game show devised to prove that the dumbest Canadian in the house is smarter than the smartest American. At one preview, Moore proved a good sport when a perky Sarah Lawrence student edged her way past her Canadian competition (who also knew the answer but was too polite to press the buzzer).
There are also plenty of strolls down memory lane. Some of these personal anecdotes are proud puffery. Others make a political point – like the story about how he, as an insubordinate 16-year-old kid, singlehandedly managed to integrate the local Elks lodge. These are the stories that deliver his main message that “one person out of nowhere can make a revolution.”
The superior design team assembled by helmer Michael Mayer, including David Rockwell (set), Kevin Adams (lighting), and Andrew Lazarow (projections and video design) team up on one terrific effect that really puts across his best story, about a librarian who saved his bacon.
“Remember books?” As Moore asks the question, the broad stripes of the American flag behind him suddenly become shelves of tightly packed books – the old-fashioned kind, with paper and hard covers. The story he tells is a salute to the librarian from Englewood, NJ, who kicked off a public relations ruckus that forced his publisher to release a book of his that had been embargoed for political reasons. “Librarians,” he says, “that’s one terrorist group you don’t want to fuck with.”
The personal anecdotes are interesting, but that librarian story illustrates the main message of this rally – that “one person out of nowhere can make a revolution.” “You do make a difference,” Moore insists, urging everyone in his audience to run for local office and work up to higher office. “I refuse to live in Trump’s America!” he swears, bringing the event the closest to a political rally. “Trump goes!” (wild applause) “Pence goes! (more thunder).
All we have to do is run for the local school board.