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Ohio State alumnus focuses on health insurance woes in 1-man show ‘Mercy Killers’

Courtesy of Michael Milligan

From personal experience and the desire to educate the public about the health care system, an Ohio State alumnus created a one-man show.
Michael Milligan is returning to Columbus to perform “Mercy Killers” at the Van Fleet Theater Wednesday through March 9.
“Mercy Killers” focuses on America’s dysfunctional health insurance system, Milligan said.
“What most people don’t realize is that in the majority of those bankruptcies, the person involved actually had insurance at the onset of their health crisis,” said Milligan in a press release. The play is about a man, Joe, struggling with these issues when his wife is diagnosed with cancer.
Seats for the play are free but reservations are strongly encouraged, according to the press release.
Milligan said he did not want the price of the ticket to keep anyone from coming to see it.
“I believe that health care is a public good and I also believe that the arts is a public good,” Milligan told The Lantern. “This show is like an experiment. What is it like when I remove my play from being a commodity? What is it like if we look at health care as something other than a commodity?”
Milligan said he wants OSU students to attend the play to educate them on the health care system, as most college students have insurance through their school or parents. He described the health care system as a “hindrance to the American idea of free enterprise and risk taking.”
“The intention of the play is to put a human face to some of the statistics that we hear about,” Milligan said. “I just want people’s hearts to be touched and woken up so that as a society we can begin to move towards the recognition of health care as a basic human right and public good as opposed to a privilege of the affluent class. I want people to see it and be motivated to transforming this system.”
Milligan said the inspiration for the performance comes from personal experience.
“I had that experience of being in a relationship with someone who is struggling with the health care system and that impacted the relationship and our financial situations because we are both artists,” he said.
Milligan also said he started to pass kidney stones when he was experiencing a gap in his insurance coverage.
“I was crawling across the floor to the computer to try and diagnose myself,” Milligan said.
He felt this financial uncertainty for the first time and felt the need to write about it.
The former Buckeye was drawn to the one-man show format because its portability makes it easier to perform in a number of different venues. Milligan said he enjoyed “the intimacy you have with the audience when doing a one-man show.”
Milligan is collaborating with Single Payer Action Network Ohio, a statewide coalition that advocates for a national health care system where everyone is guaranteed full coverage.
Debbie Silverstein, the state director for SPAN Ohio, said collaboration with Milligan “is (designed) to educate people about our health care system and enter into discussion with them about what we need to do to make it work for everybody.”
SPAN Ohio worked to fund other venues to make “Mercy Killers” go statewide. It has reserved places in Cleveland, Toledo, Dayton and Athens for Milligan to perform, Silverstein said. SPAN Ohio is also available after the show to help Milligan in his discussion with the audience about health care issues.
Donations are welcome at the door and after the play, Milligan said. The money goes to securing venues for his performances around the country.
The play is presented by On the Verge Productions, which was started in 2008.
John Kuhn, the founder and media contact for On the Verge, described the one-man show as a “pretty sparse” setting and a low-technical type of play.
“It’s really just Michael and the script,” Kuhn said. “(It is) basically him and his story and his soul there sitting in front of the audience.”
Kuhn and Milligan have known each other since their time at OSU “back in the ’90s,” performing together in the theater department, Kuhn said. They have collaborated before in the spirit of promoting completely original works.
Milligan will make a high-quality video of the play and make it available to different health care advocacy programs.
“I am giving this play over to the public domain. It feels appropriate to do that,” he said.
The actor said he also plans on traveling around the country performing “Mercy Killers” for probably another year.
“People are going to get their money’s worth … Oh wait,” Milligan said.
The Van Fleet Theater is located at 549 Franklin Ave.

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