Josefina Lopez is best known for writing the award-winning play and co-writing the Sundance Award-winning screenplay for "Real Women Have Curves", but she is also the Artistic Director of CASA 0101 Theater and Cultural Center in Boyle Heights. I sat down with her over coffee to find out about her latest play having its World Premiere at CASA 0101 titled A CAT NAMED MERCY. The play opened January 31st and runs until February 23, 2014. It's considered a controversial play and is therefore recommended for mature audiences only.
Miguel: What is the play about?
Josefina: "A Cat Named Mercy is a dark comedy about health care. The story centers around Catalina Rodriguez, a young Latina LVN (licensed vocational nurse) working at a nursing home who gets her hours cut to part-time and loses her health insurance and soon after she discovers she has a cancerous tumor. Catalina meets a white cat she calls "Mercy" and she is divinely guided to do the unthinkable to save her life. I hope to illustrate how, in our country, our health depends on having insurance and the dire consequences of not having health insurance.
I also plan to personalize the struggle people confront when trying to care for a loved one suffering from a serious illness who doesn't have health insurance because they are undocumented.
Miguel: What inspired you to write the play?
Josefina: After reading several of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' books including On Death & Dying, I was so moved by her work and her desire to educate humanity about the dying process. One of the most compelling things I leaned from her work is that no one ever dies alone and that when someone dies and they let go of the hand of their relative holding on to their hand a divine being or a deceased relative is already holding the other hand.
I was also inspired by a news report I saw back in 2007 about a cat named George who would go comfort senior citizens in a nursing home a few hours before they died as though he already knew the person was going to die. I was so touched by this story I told myself I wanted to write about a cat like that. I called my cat Mercy and wanted to explore end of life issues as well as the difficulties of getting health insurance when you have a preexisting conditions. Before the Affordable Health Care Act, I was denied health insurance twice because of preexisting conditions. I am glad that finally we will all be covered by health insurances no matter our condition.
I also met several people, including my mother, who have had near-death experiences and was fascinated to discover that a lot of them returned psychic, or with an understanding that life doesn't end. After having several close calls with death myself, I am comfortable saying that death is not random and there's only death of the body and the ego but not of the soul. I wrote A Cat Named Mercy to make it accessible for my audience to challenge themselves to have a real conversation about death so that it inspires them to truly live life and live it boldly.
Miguel: Most writer would shy away from writing about death. Why do you feel it was important to write about this subject now?
Josefina: I've been wanting to write about this subject for a long time, but now that the Affordable Care Act is law I want to celebrate it by writing about this important subject that people don't want to talk about because our health really depends on our willingness to face mortality. Most of the time we neglect ourselves and our health worsens because we resist to look at our mortality. Our "Ego" doesn't want us to go there, because it knows that our "Ego" is the only thing that really dies. I also wanted to show people that diseases like cancers are not random either. I wanted to show the connection between trauma and disease and how we deny trauma and trauma lives in our body when it is not healed. If we refuse to face it and heal it emotionally then we are forced to heal it in the physical plane.
Getting real with death is something I've done since I was four. You see, when I was four-years-old back in Mexico I remember being so scared because my oldest brother came home and told our mother that he had just learned that we had enough atomic power to destroy the world seven times over. My mother got upset and told him that in the Bible it says that God would destroy the world with fire. I was so shocked to hear this. I quickly left the living room and went to my bed and covered my head with the blanket. I had lost my innocence because I knew then that I would die. The thoughts that came to me after that realization would not stop. I stared at the moon because I couldn't go to sleep. Then I closed my eyes and had a horrific image of me as the last person on earth driving around on a Jeep accompanied by Yogi Bear and a couple of the Hannah-Barbara cartoon characters looking for the people who had survived the atomic bombs.
Miguel: You have worked many times with director Hector Rodriguez on World Premiere plays. Tell me more about the playwright / director relationship you have?
Josefina: I love working with Hector because although he is a very capable director, he has little to no "ego" - he's all about the work and making it a better story. He has a great talent for finding the funny in the most tragic. He has a gift for directing comedy and I really feel like he listens well and tries to make the story I wrote better, rather and trying to impose the story that he thinks it should be like many other directors who fall in love with their vision not the vision of the playwright.
Miguel Garcia is the Artistic Director/Executive Producer of Brown & Out, a company that celebrates the Latino/a LGBTQ experience. He has produced 29 short plays over 3 seasons with premieres in LA and Dublin, Ireland. He studies Playwriting at UCLA. Author's website Email the author