#CareDivas: A tribute to OFW heroes

How does it feel like to work in a foreign land? It’s fun and challenging at the same time.

I was still a teenager when I decided to leave college and work in the United Arab Emirates. For more than three years, I had seen how our “kabayans” constantly confronted by loneliness missing their friends and families back home, language barriers, the difficulty of trying to fit in, and coping with the fact that they will remain foreigners no matter how long they stayed in that country.

While there are some downsides, Filipinos, over time, build up a good network of trustworthy, fun and good people, whom they can cherish and become lasting friends. This, most of the time, outweighs the challenges.

This is the message of Caredivas: An Original Pinoy Musical, about five transgender Overseas Filipino Workers who take care of their Jewish employers in the morning and who, come nighttime, transform into drag queens hoping to perform in a big bar in Tel Aviv.

The musical features interesting characters: Chelsea, a kind and loving OFW;  Shai, the often-sarcastic leader of the group; Thalia, the ditzy member of the quintet; Kayla, the bubbly caregiver who jumps from one employer to another; and Jonee, the ill-tempered member of Caredivas.

The cast of “Caredivas,” a funny musical dedicated to every Filipino working overseas 

The musical is having a special run at the PETA Theater Center and giving life to these major roles are theater actors Melvin Lee (Chelsea), Vince De Jesus and Ron Alfonso (Shai), Dudz Teraña and Jason Barcial(Thalia), Gio Gahol, Jerald Napoles and Ricci Chan (Kayla), and Thou Reyes and Phil Noble (Jonee).

During the musical’s dress rehearsal on Friday, the cast that also includes Myke Salomon, Paul Holme and Leo Rialp, Joan Bugcat and Gold Villar, Eric Dela Cruz, and Dom Miclat-JanssenSherry Lara, Eko Baquial, and Joseph Madriaga gave the audience a glimpse of the disarmingly funny and candid drama that revolves around the plight of Filipino workers overseas.

Set in Israel, the story tells how desperate these characters are to make ends meet, while they struggle to search for acceptance in a foreign land. In between, the story tells how Filipinos look at each other’s back, commit a lot of time and effort to getting to know them well, and mold the relationship into a deep and lasting friendship.

“Caredivas is not a story of epic proportions. It is a story that spans roughly a year and focuses on a small seemingly insignificant community of Filipino overseas workers that find a way to survive and thrive through friendships and an opportunity of personal expression through in their creative performances,” says Maribel Legarda, PETA’s Artistic director and the play’s director.

Leo Rialp as Isaac (left) and Melvin Lee as Chelsea

She adds, “This production is more than just a gay play for me. It is a story of migration and how the dark, dirty, and dangerous work that will be encountered by a majority of overseas Filipino workers can, in the hands of a resilient and loving people be turned into a life filled with camaraderie, adventure, and passion.”

Written by Liza Magtoto, Caredivas was produced and premiered in 2011. It dominated the 2011 Philstage Gawad Buhay! Awards bagging seven trophies including, Outstanding Musical Direction, Outstanding Musical Production and Outstanding Ensemble Performance for a Musical.

According to Legarda, Magtoto has written a very filmic play as if the scenes dissolve and cut a continuous flow allowing the play to utilize very minimal sets and props.

“This became a major motif in the direction and design style of the play. The stage is like a neutral canvas. I have also chosen to work with a small cast of ten highly talented actors who fill the canvas with intense, dynamic, and joyful performances. Vincent De Jesus’ original songs weave through the narrative as the other “text” that embodies the romantic and whimsy of this play,” Legarda added.

Subsequently, Caredivas continued to be produced in April 2012 in partnership with Repertory Philippines and most recently in February to open PETA’s 50th anniversary.

The theater association presents Caredivas’ special run in partnership with Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) to pay tribute to all overseas Filipino workers as the present-day heroes of our country.

Performances will run until July 30 at The PETA Theater Center.

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