Theaterbatoring PETA's Care Divas

Cast of Care Divas
I wrote an "advancer" for PETA's "Care Divas" a few weeks back:

I finally got a chance to see it and here are some
thoughts on peta's "care divas"
by walter ang
april 18, 2011

there's news that peta's "care divas" will have a new run later this year. the musical revolves around the friendship between the five care divas.  their dream of landing a regular gig as a group is anchored by the story of chelsea and her relationships with her employer/patient (and, of course, her blossoming love interest). two other care divas provide somewhat major subplots while the last two are mostly for comic relief.

overall, i found the pacing a little slow. the material doesn't seem like it should take more than two hours to unfold.

the first act scenes seem to start in fits, though the interweaving expository monologues introducing the care divas as they pass on their "patient/s" to one another is clever. some scenes, like whenever the care divas are in their friend nonah's flat, seem to be written and staged in a way that have slow starts similar to sequences for tv or film, you can almost feel the invisible camera panning for an establishing shot before someone starts talking.

the set design by leo abaya is unwieldy. though it has a clever carved out seating area that doubles as a patient's bathtub, the downstage cross-inclined ramps could have been omitted to concentrate the action onto a more focused space (not to mention to add rows for more audiences).

(i've noticed that directors for peta productions have been staging some scenes on ground level, forgetting that audiences in the orchestra aren't seated on an incline and, therefore, do not have clear sightlines. this happened in their production of "ang post office" a few months ago, too.  during the intermission, a family crept up to the balcony where i was seated, announcing they were tired of craning their necks.)

drag performances naturally involve superfluous showboating, and perhaps that's where it should stay and not conveyed via descending lampposts from the rafters. (even if they're supposed to serve as metaphors for phallic symbols piercing into the care divas' lives).

a sense of identity is one of the obvious and initial themes the text presents: in this story we have men-who-identify-as-women who are strange strangers in a strange land.

director maribel legarda has one actor (paul holme) portraying all the jewish patients of most of the care divas. it's theatrical and fun, we get to see one actor switching several characters on and off. two female roles (israeli mother and isaac's daughter) are also played by one actress.

this reinforces the concept of the "sameness" or "generic-ness" of these "minor" characters.  it tells us that this story is not so much about "them" (the israeli employers/patients) than it is about the care divas, who, in turn, we assume, are the ones usually regarded by the public as "them."

that even if these care divas use gender-bending make-up and costume (whether this is to disguise their true selves or to dress up as their true selves deserve a whole other discussion), they have more solid identities than the "other" characters around them.

one has to wonder, then, what the production is trying to say by having only one caucasian actor and a couple of filipino actors play the non-filipino roles. i realize that it's not easy to cast caucasians in manila, but the color-blind-save-for-one-actor (nothing against holme) set up seems a little off-kilter.

gender and sexuality
contingent to the issue of identity, in this case, are gender and sexuality. and the many shades within their intertwined spectrums.

refreshingly, playwright liza magtoto dumps us right in the middle of the action with none of what-could-have-been stereotypical melodramatic and trite backstories of attempting to explain/justify the hows and whys of the homosexuality or the cross-dressing. (there is actually one backstory that seems awkwardly inserted, but more on that later.)

given the self-identification of the lead characters as women, the text surprisingly harbors a misogynistic streak. the care divas' sole female friend nonah, is, at one point, considered a traitor to their cause. and then there are the mothers.  israeli mother and shai's off-stage voice-over mother are both demonized as the enemy.

kayla is deported and her subplot awkwardly ends there. shai's backstory showcasing her strained relationship with her mother is left awkwardly unresolved. adding to the awkwardness is the way the mother is never present on stage. she's channeled by shai's patient (holme) and then by the care divas-as-greek-chorus-as-mother-as-a-monster.

the device used to present this absent character is good for laughs, but doesn't really seem to serve a point. it explains some of shai's caustic personality, but why is she the only character whose personality has to be explained? and why explained in this manner (mother-as-monster)?

when kayla is deported, the other care divas are unable to help her.  shai does not receive closure for her relationship with her mother (whether seeking acceptance or unilaterally breaking ties), she simply leaves for work in another country.

even when they are double-crossed by the bar owner who hires them, the care divas march on. when chelsea discovers kinks in her potential love relationship (a wonderful twist that layers further and skewers notions of truth / identity / costume / deceit) , she pushes forward.

we are given these recurring awkward endings to the problems that are introduced. in the face of conflict, it seems acceptance, resignation and moving are the only currencies that can be banked on by the care divas in their fleeting, unstable, risk-filled, oppressive world.

thank goodness for acts of kindness from strangers (israeli or otherwise) and friends (filipinos or otherwise) in the strange land. the care divas may sing about being bad girls, get bitchy with each other, and kvetch about their employers, but then these divas really do care: about each other, the people they have to care for, and the people they want to care for.

melvin lee is sterling in his portrayal of chelsea's breakdown when isaac passes away; showing chelsea's hope, grief, longing, and love smashing into each other.

maybe this is the point: hope. perhaps because, despite and in spite of unpredictable awkward endings hanging over the care divas' heads, they know that their minds have to necessarily let go of what can't be changed and their hearts have to grasp at all and any chance at hope, real or illusory.  now if it could all be told in just two hours ... kekeke.

What do you think of this production? Share your comments.


Anonymous said...

May isa pang caucassian, si Dom Jansen.

A friend of mine said he finds it "Didactic. But fun".

Jellicleblog said...

i super love the production! i even ended up producing my fourth experience. i agree that "hope" is the recurring theme. for someone who has always been oppressed and marginalized, the promise of a new tomorrow is paramount and undeniable.

i love this review. comprehensive, yet - very beky!