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Paper Dolls ~ A Play with Songs ~ Mosaic Theater Company of DC

Jordan Wright
April 4, 2018 

Are you ready to plunge headlong down a rabbit hole with a cross-cultural mash-up led by five Filipino “lady boys” aka drag queens called the Paper Dolls?  No, it’s not part of the far-out Fringe Festival, but it is edgy, hilarious, mind-bending and heartwarming.  It’s a caution and a small miracle alive and kicking with hope, kindness and transformation.

Lise Bruneau, Chris Bloch, and Ariel Felix ~ Photo credit Stan Barouh

First, suspend reality.  Start by allowing yourself to forgo the day-to-day grind of American politics and pop culture, then travel, vicariously that is, to Israel – the land of Yiddish, the Shabbat dinner, daily bombings and tradition with a capital ‘T’.  There’s not much milk and honey for the temporary Filipino workers whose jobs are caring for elderly Jews.  It’s their off-hours that provide the story with its humor.

Set in 2004 after the second intifada, and faced with the problem of caring for its aging population, Israel brought in 30,000 foreign workers from the Philippines.  Some of these were home health aides.  Hired through recruitment agencies to care for elderly Orthodox and Chasidic men, the workers were forced to work until they could pay off their unreasonably high agency fees.

L to R: Evan D’Angeles, Kevin Shen, Rafael Sebastian ~ Photo credit Stan Barouh

Many of these were gay men looking to send money back home to their own aging parents.  Some formed strong, familial bonds with kindly employers.  Others were badly treated and fled, or were arrested and deported.  Think this isn’t happening today?  Think again.  In some Asian and Middle Eastern countries foreign workers are kidnapped or trafficked and forced to work in life-threatening conditions with no chance of escape.

Playwright Philip Himberg, who adapted the play from the 2006 documentary film by Israeli-born Tomer Heymann, weaves these wildly disparate elements into an engaging comic drama driven by the relationship between Chaim (Christopher Bloch in a standout performance as a rheumy, wheelchair-bound Jew) and Sally, short for Salvador, a Paper Doll charged with his care.

Ariel Felix (Sally) and Chris Bloch (Chaim) ~ Photo credit Stan Barouh

Ariel Felix’s Sally gives an exceptionally tender portrayal of a someone who learns the culture and cuisine of his/her adopted country in order to show respect and kindness to her employer who adores and accepts Sally for what she is.

Beneath the surface of the glitz and glamour of the quintet’s drag act, are the everyday challenges they face living in Israel – homophobia, racism and exploitation – in a culture as foreign to them as to a fish on land.  Paper Dolls is about pride, fantasy as survival, activism, unexpected human connections and personal sacrifice.  It’s a hilarious stick-in-the-eye against social and religious conventions – not exactly what you might expect from a play-with-music, though the music portion ranges from what you’d expect to hear from a Tel Aviv DJ at a Miss Philippines-Israel Beauty Pageant (Yes, this happens!) to traditional Israeli songs and pop music.

Bold, entertaining and timely.

Additional cast members – Evan D’Angeles, Jon Norman Schneider, Rafael Sebastian, Kevin Shen, John Bambery, Lise Bruneau, Chris Daileader, Brice Guerriere, Dallas Milholland, and Elan Zafir.

Directed by Mark Brokaw, choreography by J. M. Rebudal, musical direction by William Knowles, vocal arrangements by Howard Breitbart, set design by James Kronzer, lighting by Brittany Shemuga, costumes by Frank Labovitz, sound by David Lamont Wilson and projections by Sarah Tundermann.

Through April 29th in the Theresa and Jane Lang Theatre at the Atlas Center for the Performing Arts, 1333 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002.  For tickets, info on post show discussions, special rates and discounts visit MosaicTheater Online or call the box office at 202.399.7993 ext. 2.  Valet parking at 1360 H Street, NE.

On Floor: John Bambery ~ L to R: Jon Norman Schneider, Evan D’Angeles, Ariel Felix, Rafael Sebastian, Kevin Shen ~ Photo credit Stan Barouh

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