Julliard grad returns home to launch own show
Westerville native Michael Milligan left central Ohio to attend The Julliard School more than a decade ago.
He's performed on and off Broadway, in London and across the United States.
The Westerville North graduate's latest project is his own, and he's brought it back to central Ohio in an attempt to share his art and his message, and to challenge others to think about a critical current issue.
Milligan will perform his own one-man play, Mercy Killers, Wednesday, Feb. 20 through March 9 at Van Fleet Theatre, at 549 Franklin Ave. in downtown Columbus.
The productions are free to attend.
The play centers on a man from southeastern Ohio, who is proud to be American, has Libertarian leanings and believes in self-reliance. His ethos is called into question when his wife is diagnosed with cancer and loses her health insurance.
"This was a way for me to combine my writing with my acting with my sense of being a citizen in the country and having something to say about the important issue of the day," Milligan said.
Milligan said the idea of writing a one-man show dealing with healthcare came to him years ago, but he carried out the idea after his own experience of falling ill during a gap in his own health-insurance coverage.
"I crawled across the floor to my computer and was trying to diagnose myself," Milligan said. "After I convinced myself that I was experiencing kidney failure, I was trying to determine how much this was going to cost.
"As I was lying on the floor, I was thinking, 'This is what it's like to be without insurance in America,' and it made me think about: 'What would this be like if it was serious? What happens the next day when that pain doesn't go away?' "
Milligan was able to seek treatment for his illness at a free clinic run by his actors union. Nevertheless, he began researching the healthcare system, looking into the gaps people find and realizing that the majority of personal bankruptcies filed in America are linked to serious illness.
Mercy Killers is meant to get others thinking about those problems and about solutions, Milligan said.
While he said he has his own views on healthcare, Mercy Killers is not meant to impart those views on the audience, Milligan said, and the play ultimately focuses on the love story between the main character and his wife.
"It was not my intention to write a play that would convince the audience that they should think this way about an issue. I really just wanted to create an accurate depiction of what it would be like for a couple to face a medical crisis in our country right now and what that would be like on a personal level," Milligan said. "It's a story of a real couple. It's not just a guy standing up there talking about the healthcare system. There's plenty of humor in there and humanity."
Over the next month, Milligan will perform the play across Ohio, in Cleveland, Toledo and Dayton, as well as in Columbus. All performances will be free, though donations toward the play's production will be accepted.
After Ohio, Milligan said he hopes to perform the play across the country.
"I could see myself doing this for another year or two. I think it's really a crucial time for discussion on this issue as states are either implementing or not implementing the Affordable Care Act," Milligan said.
Milligan also will travel to London this summer for the reading of another of his plays.
Milligan said he attributes the success he's seen in his acting and playwriting career to the support he received as a young actor in central Ohio, at Columbus Children's Theatre, Westerville North High School and Ohio State.
"I think the support that I had when I was growing up in Columbus, in terms of the availability of arts programming, really helped me. I'm not sure that I would have pursued a career in the arts if I hadn't had such a wonderful theater program at Westerville North," Milligan said. "It's fun to be back in that space, and also just great to be in Westerville."