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Saturday, February 5, 2011


Five Filipino gay caregivers in Israel decide to form a singing group (in drag) and reach for the heights, i.e. to be regular performers in a club in Tel Aviv. The Philippine Educational Theatre Association's (PETA) most recent offering is Liza Magtoto's 'Care Divas'.

Truly an ensemble performance by the cast, 'Care Divas' is a wonderful romp into the lives of these Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) -- we hear their travails, we delight at their little accomplishments, we sympathize with their homesickness, we laugh at their foibles, we snicker with them as they exchange retorts, we feel their pain -- and yet we triumph with them as they overcome the trials they undergo. Magtoto's script encompasses the OFW's plight. We see how OFW's are caught between their desire to provide for their families back home and their alienation in the country of their destination. The main characters may be gay, but they surely encompass the OFW experience.

Typical of PETA's productions wherein actors are made to play different characters, the guest actor, Paul Holme charmingly transforms from Daddy Isaac to Captain to Club Manager and back and forth. DudzTerana as Thalia is reminiscent of Lisa Kudrow's Phoebe on the sitcom 'Friends'. Thalia's one-liners consistently elicit guffaws from the audience. The true standout however belongs to Chelsea (Melvin Lee). Chelsea's heartwarming interaction with his ward Daddy Isaac, his subsequent relationship with Faraj, his struggle to be the catalyst of the Care Divas, and his recollection of his coming-to-terms with his homosexuality -- are portrayed with a depth and sensitivity that comes forth in Lee's every movement, gesture, nuance, look.

The script's strengths are in the main characters' details. The insecurity/paranoia of Shaina with regards to his mother back home, the helplessness of Kyla upon realizing the prospect of deportation, the steadfastness of Jonee, the naivete (not to mention the kleptomaniac tendencies) of Thalia, and the resolve of Chelsea. The exchange between the Jewish Mother and son, however, was a tad indulgent, if I may say so, and comes out not to have any real purpose in the end.

Vince de Jesus, the composer and lyricist, gives us a bevy of musical numbers that cunningly gets its inspiration from other musical genres but definitely comes out originally and stands out on its own merits.I particularly liked Chelsea's last solo number -- the purity of emotion evoked in the lyrics. Oh, Vince de Jesus, by the way also portrays Shaina.

Kudos to the direction of Maribel Legarda. Her treatment of the script does not patronize nor trivialize the OFW experience. Ditto the gay lifestyle. It was good judgment on her part to exercise restraint so that the production does not come out too campy. The Care Divas' musical numbers are at the opposite end of the usual gay-comedy-bar-routine of excess,  slapstick, and coarse jesting. Legarda's overall direction (along with the choreography of Carlon Matobato) is a fresh respite from the usual brouhaha and empty bravado we are bombarded with daily on local television.

'Care Divas' will run until March at the PETA Center (behind the QC Sports Club). The musical will definitely merit a repeat viewing from this blogger.

(photos grabbed from Vince de Jesus Facebook Album)

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