By Walter Ang
February 4, 2011
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta)'s newest musical comedy-drama "Care Divas" is about a group of Filipino caregivers working in Tel Aviv, Israel during the second Intifada (Palestine-Israel conflict). Come night fall, they moonlight as glamorous drag queens in a club.
Playwright Liza Magtoto delved into online articles and films on Israeli life, Orthodox Jews and Jewish culture for background material.
"It wasn't enough that we had to show the life of caregivers alone," she says. "We had to ground it to their lives in Israel, the culture there, and the political context, including Intifada. It could be set in Japan or some other place, but there was inherent dissonance when you juxtapose being gay, Jewish culture, Hebrew language, being in Israel, being illegal or legal migrant workers, and the effect of the Intifada on the exodus of Pinoys to Israel."
Multi-Palanca Award winner Magtoto has written other works for Peta, including "Agnoia," "Libby Manaoag Files: Ang Paghahanap sa Puwertas Prinsesas," "ASL Please," and "Rated PG." She has translated Israeli playwright Savyon Liebrecht' "Apples from the Desert," another work grounded on Jewish customs.
Magtoto had also personally interviewed caregivers who came from or who are still in Israel. "Their experiences helped me shape some scenes," she says.
The decision to make this story into a musical was borne out the fact that the characters' "performances" involved singing. However, Peta couldn't afford the royalty fees for songs that are usually sung by female impersonators. "The problem was that if the characters couldn't lipsynch the popular songs, then what would they sing?" she says. "So we composed our own!"
"Care Divas" revolves around Chelsea (Melvin Lee), whose employer teaches her Hebrew; and Shai (Vince De Jesus), haunted by her mother's rejection; both of whom are friends with Kayla (Jerald Napoles alternating with Ricci Chan), Thalia (Dudz Teraña alternating with Jason Barcial) and Jonee (Phil Noble alternating with Buddy Caramat).
The characters, despite the glitter and show involved in their drag queen personas and performances, struggle with cultural differences, alienation and loneliness. "They are always alert, constantly fearing deportation and war," Magtoto says.
It was clear to the Peta collaborators, which include Peta artistic director Maribel Legarda as the musical's director and Vince De Jesus as the lyricist, composer and musical director, that they didn't want to portray stereotypes.
"At first, we even considered not having a love story angle, but then, we have to acknowledge that that is just human!" says Magtoto.
"Truth is, there's as much, if not more, drama in the musical as there is comedy. But the Pinoys' resiliency shines through in any form! We tackle our problems with laughter. That's not to say we want to escape from it, though. It's in this spirit that we celebrate the Pinoy `care divas' abroad."
Magtoto hopes that audiences will appreciate the musical's layers of themes that include migration, homelessness, tolerance, and identity, among others.
"Hopefully, audiences see how 'Care Divas' portrays the strength of the human spirit, the way we adapt and rise above difficult circumstances and actualize our full being. Hopefully, it expands our perspectives and questions long-held prejudices -- how we 'look' at gays, migrants, women, being Palestinian or being Jewish.
"I'm not saying this musical will end wars, but perhaps it could help open minds. I'm hoping, it could make one proud of one's identity while respecting others and being tolerant as well.
"But I'm not comfortable about giving away what I want to say about the musical because I want to encourage varied interpretations and discussions among the audiences as to how they may `read' the material."
Cast includes Cecilia Garrucho, Paul Holmes, Myke Salomon, Angeli Bayani, Eric Dela Cruz, Miguel Hidalgo and Dom Miclat-Janssen. Collaborators include costume designer John Abul, lighting designer Jon Jon Villareal, set designer Leo Abaya and choreographer Carlon Matobato.
"Care Divas" runs from Feb. 4 to March 13 at Peta Theater Center every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M.. Call 725-6244, 410-0821 or 0917-564-2433 or email email@example.com.
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