“It’s about a group of outsiders,” director Mark Brokaw says of Mosaic Theater Company’s musical “Paper Dolls,” which premiered last week at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. “And we’re always afraid of outsiders.”
The show was inspired by a 2006 documentary about five gay Filipino men who, in the early 2000s, worked in Tel Aviv as caretakers for elderly Orthodox and Hasidic men, and headlined a drag show on their day off.
“Paper Dolls” has evolved in the transition from movie to musical, but it hasn’t changed as much as the world outside the theater.
“Gender, which is all over the place now, is very much part of the story, as is immigration,” Brokaw says. “The play speaks to all of that in a way that has made it more interesting and have more heat for me, just because it has paralleled what we read in the newspaper. Every day I feel we are working on something that is directly addressing something everyone is struggling with in this country.”
As the story progresses and the religious Jewish men and their families begin to relate to their caretakers and vice versa, all of them find their perspectives changing as they discover the ways their cultures are alike.
“They all share a resilience, they all share a positive outlook,” Brokaw says. “They just refuse to give up even when things are bad.”
That shift in perspective is something Brokaw hopes happens to the audience as well.
“We are going through the same experience of the people in the play, just being open more fully to other people, other worlds, other cultures, other sexualities,” he says. “How they view themselves in the world and live their lives and how we need to live our lives with them.”
By the end of the play, there are no outsiders, Brokaw says. “All of these people from different worlds, broken for different reasons, find a way to make a new family.”
Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE; through April 29, $20-$65.