Paper Dolls


People have called Paper Dolls “a play with music.” It’s also been billed as a “karaoke musical.”  We have 20 people coming to see the show in two different groups, so please continue the conversation of this titillating and thought-provoking show by addressing any of the following questions and sharing your reflections.



What does the playwright, Philip Himberg, want us to think of the character of Etai, when he announces he wants to make a documentary film of the Paper Dolls?

 What are your thoughts on the title of the work and the name of the group?

 Is Sally’s decision to walk out on the show one that is to be taken as a moral statement of independence or an emotional reaction that leaves the whole group broken and vulnerable?

 How do the musical numbers serve the show?

8 comments on “Paper Dolls”

  1. Marcia Feuerstein

    Paper Dolls –paper and dolls as an idea is such a loaded concept . The paper: Newspaper / newsprint paper a cheap material – and a newspaper, something quickly written for today, and immediately discarded once what’s written is quickly consumed. The news of the day – facts, false, quickly replaced by the next day’s news and on and on. The paper dolls are a child’s play – cutting out identical “dolls”, linked together, identical, quickly and easily discarded, reproduced and replaced. This is what we are led to believe, and how they were treated by some, by the families of the elderly being cared for by the paper dolls.

    The reality of the “Paper Dolls” themselves could not be different that this. They were unique individuals, their performances soulful, beautiful, unique to each character — their artful creations – the unique costumes characterized each as a representation of each one — colors, frills, simple elegance, etc. Yet throughout the performance and narrative, we saw, at different times, how each were treated as yesterday’s news – throwaways that could and would be quickly replaced. Caregivers who cared but were treated without care, until some of those who were cared for realized how they became another member of the family. Then the sadness with passing and leaving.

    Etai appears as someone who is clueless about the precarious nature of the women – and also seems more interested in making a name for himself than the paper dolls. He evolves as the play develops. Sally’s departure was a moral issue, that the group was being taken over by someone who was not interested in the group, their work, and saw them as the negative image of the “paper dolls” – and while it resulted in a series of events that destroyed the group, their stability in Israel, we could see how they were already coming apart and that the group would break apart due to their precarious position within the Israeli society. In fact they seemed to come out stronger –ultimately at other places with and without each other – to perform on their own terms.

  2. Artsconnect

    It was interesting that some of the musical numbers were connected to a plot point and some of music seemed to be more of a mood or time period reference – almost a part of the overall production design. It is also a formal choice that the music has been fit into actual secular or religious settings, as opposed to characters breaking into song as part of the dialogue (as in opera or Broadway musicals.)

    There’s a nice development of the theme of “Paper Dolls” with costumes made of old newspapers arrayed against the symbolic meanings of Paper Dolls.

  3. Bert

    In the talk back, the words “Joyful – for showing the enduring power of love” came to my mind. We then discussed how Filipina care-giving is seen around the world, that is, women from the Philippines, rather than men. And yet here were persons from the Philippines born into men’s bodies whose characters were clearly female – and they had the same characteristic caring and loving natures as women – they really were Filipinas! The way they infused themselves with the religion and cultural idiosyncrasies of their wards was one of the most endearing parts of the performance.
    There was a dark side to the story, however, which came out in the songs more than the plot – and which was especially relevant given the fate of at least one Paper Doll in real life after the group broke up. An early song was, “Its raining, its pouring, … my love life is boring!” And the chorus refrain in another song was, “I know you have to go, but …” As I thought about the lives and hopes of these characters, I kept coming back to how difficult it must be for them to partner with a loved one – in their case, with a man. This came up only once in the dialogue, when one character – was it Sally? – described how she dated a man for 3 months, until he said, “So, are you ready? …” She said, “Ready for what?” He meant ready to have sex. One of the other Paper Dolls said, “So what happened? Did he get angry?” And Sally cheerfully replied, “No, we stayed together another 8 years!” [If I remember it correctly.] Well, that now, in retrospect, seems to me to have been the way the writer avoided this whole question of how difficult it could be, in a critical cultural environment, for a transgender woman to find loving partnership with a hetero man. We learned after the play that in real life, Sally was beaten to death in Dubai [again, if I got that right]. This dimension seemed only to appear in the singing – notes of sadness in what was otherwise an effort to celebrate the love and resilience of “family” – which the performance presented so richly, with Haim, with the group, and eventually with Haim’s daughter from the U.S.

  4. anmt

    To live in one cultural with no other comparative reference points is a prison. To be allowed to view a rich cultural through the lens of another rich, but quite different cultural is a gift. This play opens the window on the strengths and weaknesses of both Jewish and Filopino ways of life and compels the audience to participate in this clashing and merging of the two. There was delicate critique of the political situation in Israel that was present as a subtle undertone and was revealed in personal and comic ways through the actors. The personal stories that emerged brought the cultures to life.

    The play was excellent and thought-provoking, but the talkback afterwards conducted by Mosaic did a disservice to the production. Instead of soliciting the audience’s view and focusing on and exploring more deeply the characters’ issues, the talkback diverged into political issues that were pontificated on by the so-called experts – We dissect to destroy. Would have been more enlightening to focus on the play, not the politics.

  5. Melinda

    It was a more complex show than might appear at first blush, especially highlighting outsiders at all levels–non-Jews, men in drag, immigrants, non-Israelis. I think Etai is “us”–he wants to film/observe these “weird” people who are flamboyant, crazy, funny. But then we get drawn into them as people. At one point he says that he never imagined he would be friends with them. Later he says, I want to make a “real” documentary, tacitly acknowledging that what he was doing before was simply being a voyeur. But these men are so much more than drag queens. One appreciates their perilous existence, dependent only on their job with an elderly person in order to survive.

    This fits with the title, too. Initially, these are paper dolls–one cut out just like another. No one can be distinguished with the other. But gradually we go deeper and find the differences and even the souls of each one. this is particularly underscored by the brief transition to being Japanese. The club owner’s view seems to be to put any old dress on them–it’s entertainment.

    Sally’s walk out after that point is her statement of independence. She is more than a paper doll and she is not going to dress up as whoever the club owner wants her to be. I don’t think she is walking out on performing, just on being manipulated.

    While the show could have benefited from some editing, I thought it was a very creative way to deal with all the hot button issues of today.

  6. Susan K Galbraith

    In the Mosaic Theatre-led talkbacks, the initiating invite to the “expert-heavy” discussions was always, “What are words or phrases that capture your initial response to the show?” (Sadly, to my mind, any discussion then of the provocative script or riveting performances was sadly dropped.)

    But here are three words that came to mind seeing the show on Wednesday: INNOCENT PLAYFUL CULTURALLY, RICHLY MULTI-LAYERED

    Innocent, because surprisingly, despite all the tough experience these Filipinas had faced being accepted back home and now as immigrant workers in Israel, they retained a kind of of optimism and, yes, innocence
    Playful, because I think it is too easy to lump all drag queen performances with “sex workers,” which these 5 clearly did not consider themselves. Not only was their show more about expressing themselves in family solidarity and community, but I think the individual characters expressed their sexuality honestly and with a great deal of playfulness.
    The last I tried to come up with a phrase avoiding “multi-cultural” which seems worn threadbare. Even though the society in which they found work tried to marginalize them in their political phobia against foreigners, they seemed richly multi-layered individuals — embracing and learning songs and prayers of the Jewish faith, maintaining a prayer-based Catholic practice together, expressing fully each of their own sexual identities while supporting each other along what was a pretty wide spectrum, singing happily through the American pop tradition while blending Filipino songs and many others besides. They proved themselves to be global citizens, and that’s a good thing!

  7. Ari Jacobson

    I was especially intrigued by Etai’s character, and his relationship to the Paper Doll’s performance of gender/sexuality. By putting on elaborate costumes, the dolls are actually revealing their true selves in a way that Etai, pressured by his family and Israeli society to live up to a macho, hyper-masculine ideal. His journey in the play begins from a place of somewhat guilty fascination with these inscrutable, titillatingly alien foreigners and their ability to engage so openly and playfully with their own identities. His struggle to both accept himself and to learn to see them for the human individuals they are forms much of the backbone of the play.

  8. Catherine Lincoln

    Paper Dolls was an unusual, intriguing, challenging mix of cross-cultural relationships–Orthodox Jewish oldsters and their Filipino carers–who form a wildly colorful singing group in drag at night. we got to glimpses of their challenges in working as “visitors” in Israel, their fraught relations with family, and their strong bond of friendship with one another. The show is fast moving and filled with hokey karaoke songs, rock and pop favorites, with some Israeli and Filipino music thrown in. A very lively evening!

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