Opening on the heels of Belgium's passage last week of a bill permitting euthanasia without age restrictions, Josefina Lopez's new play A Cat Named Mercy could scarcely be timelier. Directed by Hector Rodriguez, it tackles big ideas like death and dying, suicide and sexual abuse, immigration and racism. But in the hustle to cover so much ground, minor themes – each deserving of a play in their own right – receive short shrift, while the primary exploration of mercy killing gets cluttered. A more economical treatment could prevent the playwright's ideas from jumbling into false dichotomies.
Catalina (Alex Ximenez) supports her disabled mother (Blanca Araceli) while working as the only warm-hearted caregiver in a nursing home. Through a head-snapping chain of events, she loses her health insurance to downsizing just moments before learning she has a life-threatening cancerous tumor that disqualifies her from independent coverage. Facing a certain death sentence, she enters into an uneasy arrangement with some elderly patients by undertaking a Kevorkian ministry that's not quite quid pro quo, but comes awfully close.
Lopez's program note declares she's neither for nor against assisted suicide, but such a stance seems disingenuous. The right to healthcare and the right to die are presented as two sides of the same humane coin, with divine intervention and supernatural elements conspiring to let Catalina morally off the hook. Through an untimely death, the playwright shies away from forcing her character to grapple with the real motivation behind her actions. Is she just desperate, or does she undergo an incremental ideological shift? Catalina's lack of interiority provides little insight. The appealing Ximenez leads a 14-member cast playing 34 roles, with Susan Davis and Minerva Vier especially good as a well-to-do patient and a Filipina supervisor, respectively. Dancer Beatriz Eugenia Vasquez and a hand puppet serve as the eponymous feline. There is fertile ground here, but it needs more tilling.
Casa 0101 Theater, 2102 E. 1st St., Boyle Heights; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.; through Feb. 23. (323) 263-7684; www.casa0101.org.