REVIEW: “Care Divas” is heartfelt and hopeful
When this show first premiered in 2011, it came during a height of Filipino diaspora. Then, a musical about OFWs was timely in a straightforward kind of way. But now, six years later, it comes back with surprising political relevance.
Five gay Filipino caregivers in Israel are banded together by their circumstance and their passion to become performers in Tel Aviv. They each have their own stories, but with common threads of longing for home and acceptance binding them together.
Chelsea (Melvin Lee) laments caring for someone else when her own ailing mother is left in the Philippines. Shai (Vincent De Jesus) is made stern and temperamental by a demanding mother who pressures him to give everything to his entire family, and Kayla (Ricci Chan) is struggling to adjust to the rules of Israel. They are joined by Jonee (Buddy Caramat) and Thalia (a hilarious Dudz Terana, alternated by Jason Barcial).
(In Photos: PETA’s Care Divas)
They are accepted in Israel well enough, though it is made clear that will change if they acted upon their sexuality. They repress it for the most part, choosing their work and their performing dreams instead of looking for love. This changes for Chelsea, during a chance encounter with a handsome stranger Daniel (Myke Salomon, alternating with Jef Flores) one night.
Melvin Lee portrayed Chelsea with a femininity that was natural, even delicate. He was able to lay all of Chelsea out for the audience to know and sympathize with. His Chelsea shines as the true protagonist, pulling her relationship with Daddy Isaac (Paul Holme, with Leo Rialp alternating) as the beating heart of the entire show. They had a chemistry that was evident from their first scene, so that when their friendship comes to an end, you are every bit as shattered as she is. When Mr. Lee delivers Chelsea’s parting words, you see the entirety of what Isaac means to her in that moment: the anguish over his death, as well as the sheer pleasure and luck she feels having known him.
It is the strength of their chemistry that made the next half of Chelsea’s story arc nearly incongruent with the first. She was devoted to her patient, yet was so easily swayed to put his needs on hold so she could buy her romantic interest some time.
The story shifts into a dramatic love story, where Chelsea loves despite all of Daniel’s lies and her friends’ disapproval. The reality of being a Palestine in Israel forces Daniel to go on the lam, and Chelsea to follow him. The chase ends in ultimate tragedy, and Ms. Magtoto once again touches on a real consequence of someone who lives in Israel. While realistic, terrorism should be allowed proper explanation and exploration, instead of used as a plot device for maximum dramatic effect.
The storytelling skirts over the immediate aftermath. A scene featuring nothing but voiceovers tell us what has become of the Care Divas— two of them are in New York, one remains in Israel, while the other is doing well back home. It’s overlong but necessary for the cast to prepare for the musical’s big finish.
The show ends with a song that is so shockingly timely, it was bone-chilling. “Saan Ka Man Dalhin” is an anthem for these times of travel bans and anti-immigrants. The world talks about building walls and here’s PETA’s Care Divas singing—with in-your-face pageantry, celebration, and defiance—about breaking them. It’s the best note to end on, with the most important message to impart: balang araw ay ma-gigiba ang bakod mo / at makaka-pasok ang tulad kong / may karaniwang pangarap…
For this run, a new cast is recruited to alternate with those who were part of the first run. The new cast had big heels to fill. The original cast took to their roles like wearing stilettos were second nature to them. They imbibed the rich subculture of gay Filipinos with an earnestness and understanding that wasn’t as evident with the new cast. Red Concepcion and Ron Alfonso make good effort in their roles, but it feels as though Gio Gahol (Kayla) and Thou Reyes (Jonee) were holding back. As if they didn’t want to go overboard or go too far in case they create caricatures out of their characters.
It’s a story that is very human at its core. Director Maribel Legarda even called the heroines “seemingly insignificant”, though not in a pejorative kind of way. It’s to do with the ordinariness of their tale, how it could happen—and has happened—to Filipinos who set out and leave the Motherland.
Liza Magtoto has crafted a layered, complex, and informative narrative that is enriched by Vincent De Jesus’s lyrics and musical direction. It’s a piece that leaves no stones unturned. The Divas experience it all—from the Israel-Palestine conflict to the complicated spectrum of human sexuality. John Abdul’s costumes, Leo Abaya’s set, and Jonjon Villareal’s lighting all helped create the colorful, vibrant atmosphere while Ms. Legarda brings all these elements together to create a damn near-perfect musical theater experience.
You can buy tickets HERE.