Louisville theater company confronts issues in the U.S. health care system in a new play
The play “Peety” tells the story of a family waiting at a doctor's office as they attempt to navigate the pitfalls of U.S. health care.
Teatro Tercera Llamada founder Haydee Canovas wrote the work borrowing from her own experiences when her father needed open heart surgery in the summer of 2011.
“The play has to do with the wants of parents as they get older, the loss of sensations of sensory abilities as they get older, the challenges that older folks have accessing health care,” Canovas said.
Canovas said she feels, because of her Cuban-American heritage, it’s her job to listen to their needs and ensure they are met.
“They tell me what they want, you know, when they die, things that you know, are important for them,” Canovas said. “And as the daughter, the Cuban-American daughter of Cuban parents, I made a mental note of all of this.”
The play shines a light on parts of the medical system that don't get a lot of attention.
“Being the caregiver of your elderly parents is something that we don't talk a lot about,” said Jomaris DeJesús, a member of Teatro Tercera Llamada. “Even at work, we are this wonderful person in this you know, role in your job, and nobody knows that you have to go home and give shots to your parents or that you have to come late because you have to be with them in a doctor's appointment.”
DeJesús, cast as Peety in the play, said those responsibilities take an emotional toll.
In the play, the older characters have their daughter, Peety, as their advocate. But the experience is still surreal and complicated, just as it was for Canovas and her family in real life.
Canovas, who is a nurse practitioner, said the medical system is full of ageism, and she wanted the play to reflect that.
“I just want to put the human touch to older folks, you know, they have needs and wants and desires and want to be heard and feel that they're slowly disappearing, and don't have a voice,” she said.
As playwright, she feels that she can give them a voice.
Those are the issues that drew DeJesús to work with Canovas on the play.
“I think that we need to pay attention, I think we need to think through these folks that are going through the system that may not or may not have a person to help them navigate it,” DeJesús said.
Canovas said she wants people to experience the pitfalls of the health care system she’s had to deal with in both her personal and professional life. She has seen people rationing medicine because they can’t afford the amount they need.
In the play, Canovas uses a popular medical metaphor known as a “donut hole” to describe coverage gaps. She said she uses lots of metaphors in her work, and it challenges actors to adequately convey it to the audience.
“I think it would take you watching it a couple of times to actually catch all of them because they're not on the nose, but they're there, kind of, to highlight what is not on the script, to highlight some of what is in the script,” DeJesús said.
Canovas said the play is structured so audience members will be put in the place of patients waiting at the doctor's office just like characters on stage.
They will be asked to examine what they are watching play out around them and grapple with how they want to react.
“If they're going to think about the play a week after watching it, I think that I would like for audience members to think to themselves, am I a follower of the system? Or am I someone who's willing to speak up against the system,” DeJesús said.
“Peety” runs at the MeX theater at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts March 23 through April 1. The play is in Spanish with English supertitles.