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A CurtainUp London Review
. The dictate of orthodox Jewry is that women cannot provide intimate care for these men. The resulting cultural potpourri is that visas can be issued to Filipino men to work in Israel in the homes of the elderly. Some of these men and all who figure in Philip Himberg's play are gay and will dress as women and on their day off, look to launch careers in show business as drag acts. The name Paper Dolls comes from the exotic dresses that they make out of rolled newspapers and magazines or in weaving folded magazines which make lovely costumes for their show business act.
The story starts at the airport in Tel Aviv when Cheska (Benjamin Wong) goes through Immigration. Yossi (Tom Berish) is an Israeli documentary film maker will make a film about the Filipino men and introduce them to a show business promoter. Sally (Francis Jue) born Salvatore and brought up as a Catholic looks after Chaim (Harry Dickman), whom she calls Papa. Chaim has throat cancer and finds it difficult to talk. Sally has learnt to recite and sing the Jewish prayers for Chaim. Sally and another "doll" will be detained and threatened with deportation. Adina (Caroline Wildi) is Chaim's daughter, grieving for her son Ezra killed by the abominably named "friendly fire". We shall also meet Yossi family when the dolls are welcomed by his mother Yael (Jane Bertish). The group will audition for a drag act and be instructed to appear as Japanese geishas which they are unhappy with. The documentary film allows for much biographical detail about the Paper Dolls to be uncovered in a natural way.
The most pleasing aspect of this play is its humanity. The elderly are well cared for, with affection and humour. One man, given the choice, would rather stay with his carer in Israel than move to live with his daughter in New York. The carers are also seen with their foibles and personal difficulties. One tells us he must pay back $3500 to the agents who arranged the employment and the visa and of course, if they lose their job, or the person they care for dies, they are in danger of being deported with debt. The up side about life in Tel Aviv is that the Paper Dolls are allowed to be themselves one day a week in a somewhat cheesy drag act.
Interspersed in the play are atmospheric and traditional folk songs from Hasidic young men in those black hats with ringlets as well as popular music sung by the Paper Dolls. The set is a concrete stairs and balcony which allows for different playing levels. When Yossi is filming, the images are projected at the rear. In the opening scene, Hebrew script is projected across the concrete. A sad, plaintive Jewish folk song is followed by the Pythonesque culture shock of a drag act singing the Bananarama hit, "Venus". The feel good closing number sees "Take A Walk On The Wild Side" paired with all of the rest of the cast as young Hasidim.
The originality and good will of Paper Dolls counters any misgivings about some aspects of the taste of the piece and I found myself grinning with these likeable characters. On opening night at the end of the play, director Indhu Rubasingham introduced on stage, three of the real Paper Dolls.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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