A Cat named Mercy

“My personal experiences and the questions I had concerning my own health care were the seeds of what has become A CAT NAMED MERCY.  I’ve often felt that I would go out of my way to take care of people and wondered who would take care of me.”

  Josefina López, Artistic Director of CASA 0101 Theater, Playwright and Producer

Health care and a cat with a sixth sense on who will die. That is an interesting premise for a play. Playwright Josefina López took her personal experience and tidbits of a news report about a cat in a nursing home can predict who will die next. Health care for everyone is a hot topic these days, thanks to Obamacare. What would any of us do if we were unable to obtain insurance for ourselves and family because of a pre-existing condition?  It’s a conversation that’s not popular but needs to be addressed.

Catalina Rodriguez (played wonderfully by Alex Ximenez) works as a nurse at Elysian Estates nursing home. The place is not as idyllic as it may sound. Catalina is enormously underpaid, tremendously overstressed and is in need of a life outside the job. She takes care of her blind, diabetic mother Mama Rodriguez (beautifully played by Blanca Araceli). One of Catalina’s temperamental patients is the rich former Southern-belle Miss Kitty Randolph (Susan Davis). She’s a good ole girl who comes from money and is a born racist. She insists that a white, blonde, blue-eyed nurse, like Kate Scott (Marquel Skinner), attend to her. Kitty’s son placed her in Elysian Estates because she’s impossible to live with at home. “I remind them of death and they don’t want to be around me,” she said. Kate confides to Catalina that she hates her job, the smell, the wrinkles and that it’s all too much for her. Unfortunately, there aren’t many jobs for a liberal arts major.

As Catalina tunes in and out to Kate’s misfortunes, Dr. Joy Acosta (Minerva Vier) gives Catalina the bad news that she’s been reduced to part-time. This means the weary nurse loses her benefits and health insurance.  She gets more bad news from her doctor that she a cancerous tumor which must be removed quickly. The operation is around $50,000. It might as well be five million on her nursing salary. The only thing she finds comfort in is a white cat (handled by Beatriz Eugenia Vasquez) that scurries around looking for food in the garbage. She names her Mercy and mysteriously appears whenever Catalina is down. And also shows up when somebody, like Miss Randolph, passes away.

Mercy shows up to a lot of passings. The residents that Catalina cares for have given up hope on continuing to live. They know that the end is near and they want to reach the other side on their terms. Both Catalina and Mercy “help” these patients and succeed. Then there’s Kitty’s greedy grandson Brad Randolph (Alex Denney) who finds out the special “care” Catalina provides. He is obviously attracted to her but is more attracted to what he considers his inheritance. His grandmother left all her money to Catalina and he wants it back or else.  Suddenly, Catalina is in the tight spot and doesn’t know what to do. Turn herself in? Or take the money and get the hell out?

López created the perfect scenario about a worldwide issue. She demonstrates how vital and often deadly the absolute need is everyone to have affordable health care. Catalina represents a huge portion of uninsured Americans. Her story is represents many of us who are not covered. López writes with passion, heart, humor, drama and more importantly sensitivity.  With all these ingredients, A Cat named Mercy is a poignant and cautionary tale.

 A Cat named Mercy plays until this Sunday. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday, February 23rd at 5 p.m. at Casa 0101 Theater, located at 2012 East First Street, (at St. Louis Street across the street from the Hollenbeck Police Station) in Boyle Heights. For ticket information call (323) 263-7684 reserve online at www.casa0101.org.