By Kia Standard
The opening night of “Rescuers” came with a preshow disclaimer from director Gretchen Cryer, explaining that Kelly Taylor, the show’s writer and performer, was recovering from a severe ear infection, which caused temporary hearing loss. I considered attending the show on another night; however, as the old adage goes, “the show must go on.” Moments later Taylor arrived on stage, sat down on a wooden stool behind a black steel music stand, then promptly opened a notebook containing her script. “Uh-oh,” I thought. But now I was curious.
“Rescuers” is based on a true story about Kelly Taylor’s friendship with a pregnant homeless woman named Iris Martinez, whom she met on the New York City subway. Taylor calls a convent to find Iris shelter for the night; however, she keeps getting put on hold. Kelly is multitasking; her young daughter keeps interrupting and vying for her attention while she is on the phone. No one seems willing or able to help, so Kelly makes it her personal mission to find Iris a safe place, at all costs. Yet, how far should someone go to help a stranger?
The show flashes back to a simpler time during Kelly’s childhood, when she orchestrates make-believe rescue missions with her next-door neighbor and loveable sidekick Timmy. The pair has big dreams and even bigger adventures saving toys, pets, and anything else that needs rescuing. Little Kelly’s biggest ambition is to help her bickering parents find a reprieve from their chaotic marriage, she does everything she can to become their perfect little girl. Despite her efforts, her parents’ marriage seems unfixable, so she begins to fantasize about being adopted by the radio and television couple Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Over time young Kelly’s vivid imagination connects so deeply with Dale Evans that this heroine becomes her guardian angel and a voice inside her head. The spirit of Dale Evans, in a recorded voiceover, gently guides the child through the minefields of her life by encouraging her to join the Girl Scouts, and to emulate the life of “Jesus’ brother” the Good Samaritan. A tall order for a young girl.
Meanwhile, back in the present day, the scenario isn’t so dreamy. Adult Kelly is having a hard time finding Iris and her son José a home, so the child is placed in foster care. Although Iris finds a job in a cafeteria, her shady boss withholds her salary, and even when she is paid it is barely enough to cover expenses. Kelly continues to help Iris by collecting donations from her friends, and putting charges on her credit card; however, her husband intervenes when he finds Kelly sneaking money out of their family’s emergency fund. How far should she go to help a stranger?
Ms. Taylor is a delightful storyteller and after a while I forgot that she was carrying around her script. She has created a cast of funny, complex, and relatable characters. Although I am not sure younger audience members will recognize Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, I appreciated Taylor’s nod to nostalgia. The friendship between Kelly and Iris is moving and heartfelt, and I became emotionally connected to Kelly’s rescue mission to help a mother like herself.
Ms. Taylor’s lack of voice and dialect differentiation misses opportunities to give the characters more stylized tones and mannerisms. This makes the production feel a bit one-note, though perhaps she will make stronger vocal choices when her full hearing returns.
Still Ms. Taylor has posed interesting questions about charity, humanity, and navigating a welfare system that seems to work against those who really need rescuing. In one dream sequence, Adult Kelly plays a game show contestant who constantly loses points to a uncaring welfare worker; the game seems rigged against her. Kelly is playing for Iris’ housing, her benefits, and even the custody of Iris’ son; unfortunately, she loses all three.
These imaginative nuances balanced with its dramatic storyline makes “Rescuers” intriguing, but without a full production, the show feels unfinished. For now, “Rescuers” sits on a wooden chair with a open script resting on a music stand, still waiting for a rescue.
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
KIA STANDARD is a writer and musical theater performer, who has appeared in regional and international productions of “West Side Story,” “The King and I”, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” She received an MA in Creative Writing/Nonfiction from The Johns Hopkins University, and has published articles and profiles for various talent magazines. Ms. Standard is currently working as a musical playwright.