(Photos by Michael Serna)
Written by Daniella Litvak
In the grand scheme of theater history, a play that debuted in 1990 is a relatively recent one. Yet a lot of things can change during a span of twenty-five years, which is why in 2015 playwright Josefina López chose to update her play Real Women Have Curves.
The show begins on a hot, August morning in East L.A. Ana (Anatalia Vallez) is a recent high school graduate and —despite her firebrand bluster —is very worried her life is going nowhere. Instead of preparing for college like most of her friends and fulfilling her dream of becoming a writer, she works at a rundown sewing factor for less than minimum wage. Of course Ana is not the only person at the factory experiencing woes. Her older sister Estela (Tiffany McQuay) —who is in charge —is facing setbacks in both her personal and professional life. Meanwhile their overbearing mother —Carmen (Angela Moore) —receives a surprise. The other seamstresses —Pancha (Jessica Delgado) and Rosalie (Angela Apodaca) are not faring much better, and all of them are struggling with body image issues. Turning their workplace into a crucible is the deadline looming over all of them. If they do not finish 200 dresses by the end of the week —Estela will lose the business —a possibility that seems more and more probable as the temperature rises and tempers flare.
Real Women Have Curves cares less about plotting and more about giving the characters space to express themselves on topics such as family, immigration, and weight. Fortunately the characters are easy to empathize with, and it is interesting to watch them defend and change their opinions amongst each other. The drawback is that it feels like most of the action takes place offstage, so the audience misses out on vital moments in the characters’ journey. For instance, Ana has a lot of opinions the others deem controversial and are not shy about telling her off. Then seemingly out of nowhere one of her most vocal critics becomes her most ardent supporter. I really wish there had been some sort of bonding or realization moment before then to demonstrate why the character had a change of heart.
Perhaps some reality subtext is bleeding through because like Estela, Real Women Have Curves tries to take on a lot things in a short amount of time. Topics that could have entire plays written about them only get a brief amount of discussion, and some of the character’s arcs feel unresolved.
The cast are good in their roles and fun to watch. I really enjoyed the silent interactions between characters. Vallez’s facial expressions make for a lot of treasured moments. The cast also deserve a lot of credit for really putting themselves out there for the audience.
I adored the set —easily my favorite among the ones I have seen at the Costa Mesa Playhouse. Ryan Linhardt’s design makes you believe life is truly happening onstage. It is incredibly detailed from the newspaper pages on the windows to the pincushions on the worktables. I really liked the patches of peeled off paint revealing the “brick walls” beneath as well as the color scheme being bright but somewhat faded to convey the factory’s fallen on hard times vibe.
There are a lot of good elements in Real Women Have Curves. If you plan on checking it out here are some things to note. Playwright Josefina López will be attending the September 23 performance and participating in an audience talkback with the director and cast after the show. Talkbacks with the cast, crew, and director are also scheduled for September 10, 16, and 30. Anatalia Valez is alternating the role of Ana with Aurora Hale. Hale will be performing on September 15 – 17.
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