By Nadia Asencio
A bare stage. A stool, a music stand, an actress. So begins Kelly Taylor’s “Rescuers,” the story of her struggle to save a pregnant homeless woman named Iris, whom Kelly befriends on the subway. But this ostensibly simple setup belies a more complex narrative, one that will not fully reveal itself until after the stage lights have been extinguished.
Ms. Taylor launches the piece on the phone with a convent, as she tries in vain to find shelter for Iris. Laughs ensue as she speaks to Sister Goldberg (Sister GOLDBERG?) and then to Sister Bridgett, navigating a conversation with the nuns while also mothering her young daughter, who is making a mess in the kitchen. Lighting cues usher in ensuing scenes, and take us back to Kelly as a young girl growing up in Denver. She is the only child of parents who never cease arguing, and who use their daughter as a referee-slash-witness, a duty that has long-lasting repercussions for the girl; namely, her desire to be rescued. She offers up a child’s resolution: the “Listening Brick,” used at the Ashley School she attends, which gives anyone in its possession the opportunity to be heard. But Kelly’s parents, entrenched in a cycle of blame and ire, aren’t interested in solutions. She fantasizes that her heroes, Dale Evans and Roy Rogers, known adoptive parents, will someday come to her aid.
Young Kelly’s mother works odd jobs at various churches, exposing her daughter to different Christian denominations; it is during these transitions that Young Kelly learns the story of “The Good Samaritan,” sparking her life’s mission. Jesus was cool, Kelly reasons, but the Good Samaritan was truly inspiring. A voiceover from Kelly’s imaginary fairy godmother, Dale Evans, assures her she’s “onto something,” and Kelly’s new identity is born.
Timmy is Young Kelly’s only friend, a boy who likes to roleplay as Wonder Woman. His mother is “troubled” and imposes all sorts of duties on him; jobs fit for a grown man, but in the absence of one, delegated to her son instead. He and Kelly become “the Rescuers,” imagining they are saving all manners of creatures from “certain doom,” from ponies to babies stuck on roofs. But when Timmy suddenly moves away and doesn’t respond to Kelly’s letters, she realizes she must do the rescuing herself. As the violence in Young Kelly’s household increases, so does her urgency to leave; remembering Timmy’s “talent for child labor,” she offers to fix everything in the house, hoping that becoming the perfect child will end the fighting, and deem her fit for the rescue she so tragically desires.
When Iris is introduced to the audience, Ms. Taylor does a fair job of fleshing her out, accent and all. She’s a 30-year-old, down-and-out Puerto Rican woman, grateful for the help she receives from a stranger on the subway, hoping it will lead to further stability for herself and her unborn child. But there are many obstacles before her, too many to surmount with a small monetary donation. Both women realize this, and so begins the conflict, as Kelly opens her heart and her pocketbook ever wider in a desperate attempt to rescue Iris, while slowly risking the wellbeing of her own family in the process.
“Rescuers” turns a searing eye towards the welfare system in the U.S., criticizing the stupidity of a bureaucracy too large and mismanaged to help, and yet too powerful to overcome. The issue is brilliantly played out in an imaginary game show, in which Iris is forced to compete against “Alice Malice” from the “Anything Goes Welfare Office” for the custody of her son; but no matter how many points Iris racks up to prove she’s a fit mother, the rules are changed and turned against her. She can’t win. When Kelly’s distressed husband finally puts his foot down and threatens divorce, Kelly realizes that she can’t win, either.
While “Rescuers” may seem a modest story about the struggles faced by the homeless and those who try to help them, the narrative develops a deeper tone when Kelly asks: “How far do you go to help another person?” This is the question that lingers way past the end of the show, a universal question that applies to all of us in so many ways. Whether it’s toxic loved ones, immigrants at a border, or a homeless woman on the subway, there comes a time when we all must choose and draw a line in the sand. This can be the most difficult and heart-wrenching truth to accept, and one that Kelly eventually learns: at the end of the day, you must rescue yourself.
Ms. Taylor’s use of a script throughout is quite distracting, but considering the gain, it’s a fair price to pay. Kudos to Gretchen Cryer for directing a nuanced piece of theatre that unassumingly packs a real punch.
Written and Performed by Kelly Taylor
Oct. 6 at 6pm, Oct.11 at 9pm
Director: Gretchen Cryer
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
NADIA ASENCIO is a first-generation Cuban American playwright, artist, and founder of The Scarlet Harlot Theatre Co. which chronicles the journeys of Hispanic and Black women. Her work can be found at www.nadiaasencio.com. She resides in NYC.