There have been many heartbreaking stories about the millions of people without health insurance in the United States, putting them in a precarious situation when a medical emergency comes up. That challenge “A Cat Named Mercy,” a new play at Boyle Height’s Casa 0101, gets its powerful storyline. The play, which was written by the author of “Real Women Have Curves” and the Founding Artistic Director of Casa 0101, Josefina Lopez, focuses on the daughter of an undocumented resident and her struggles through the health care system.
Catalina Rodriguez, a caretaker at a retirement home played by Alex Ximenez, gets to see the process people take before accepting their inevitable fate – death. She struggles in her home life, in more ways than one, with her diabetic mother, absent father and deceased sister.
When life becomes too difficult for her, she meets a cat, which helps her cope with all the pain that she is enduring. Yet, life becomes even harder, which forces Rodriguez to take matter into her own hands and starts taking odd requests from the residents she cares for.
Ximenez, a native from East Los Angeles, portrays the protagonist, Rodriguez, with timidity, yet dominant prowess; a move that proves well in the culmination of the play. Her interactions with her cast mates, especially Alex Denney, who plays the grandson of one of the residents Rodriguez takes care of, shows the vulnerability Ximenez brings to the character. The tone of her voice expresses all the pain and disappointment her character has dealt with in life.
Susan Davis, who portrays a racist resident by the name of Kitty Randolph, does her part justice. Although, her calm demeanor completely contrasts her blatant racist remarks – she makes it work. Davis brings warmth to her character; a characteristic not easily associated with a racist, and also has various comedic moments.
If this play is short on something, it definitely isn’t heart. Its emotion are reflected in the words and and actions of its characters. Henry Aceves Madrid’s scenes pull at the heartstrings, as he sings a rendition of the 1952 song “That’s All,” a moment that truly embraces the meaning of love.
The play, which calls for a cat to appear on stage several times, creates the illusion by using a puppeteer. Although the professionally trained classical dancer Beatriz Eugenia Vasquez did a wonderful job creating the movements for the actual cat, her dancing became distracting throughout her scenes. The choice of having Vasquez go out without a facemask, as puppeteers often do, was also distracting. At some points even the actors would sneak a quick glimpse towards Vasquez’s face when they were interacting with the cat.
Many would consider the cat within the play to be the same cat from the play’s title, yet that would be more appropriate for the protagonist of the play Catalina, or Cat for short. Her acts of mercy throughout the play make her the owner of the namesake.
It’s through this glimpse into Catalina Rodriguez’s life that we are able to see how some of the as many as 10 million people in the U.S. suffer without the luxury of health insurance.
The play will be running at Casa 0101 until February 23. Tickets are $20 general admission or $15 for students or residents of Boyle Heights.
Erik Luna is a freelance writer based out of East Los Angeles.