BWW Review: Funny and Titillating, REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES Opens Big at Pasadena Playhouse
Real Women Have Curves/by Josefina Lopez/directed by Seema Sueko/Pasadena Playhouse/through October 4
The film of Josefina Lopez's Real Women Have Curves in 2002 was a big hit in art houses and won several Sundance prizes including an audience award for Best Actresses Lupe Ontiveros and America Ferrera, long before her Ugly Betty fame. Lopez's semi-autobiographical play from the 90s about the garment industry and the Latina women who struggle to survive in it - the basis for the film - is currently running at the Pasadena Playhouse through October 4 and has terrific direction from Seema Sueko and a closely connected ensemble of five actresses.
Whereas the movie was opened up to show various locales in Los Angeles, the play, as written, is confined to a dress factory in south central LA. It has been updated from 1987 to present time, with the gals using cell phones and mentioning other technological advances.
Estela Garcia (Cristina Frias), who owns the business and has invested her life in it, is still illegal and working for her are her mother Carmen (Blanca Araceli) and young sister Ana (Santana Dempsey) and friends Rosali (Diana DeLaCruz) and Pancha (Ingrid Oliu). She owes money and companies have threatened to take back the sewing machines, causing her to shut down and lose everything before she has a chance to finish a huge order of gowns. The order pays minimally, as it is for a cheap-ass company who will turn around and sell the dresses to stores like Bloomingdale's for hundreds of dollars a piece. Because of her jam, none of Estela's employees have been paid, so all are struggling to survive. It is loyalty to Estela and a close camaraderie that keeps them working and sticking together. Carmen, Ana, Rosali and Pancha are all legal, but Estela has never filed the necessary papers. So, every time a van passes the shop she lives in fear that it is the authorities trying to close her doors. All of the ladies have personal problems as well that are contributing to their lack of self-worth. Estela fears that at 35 she is a failure, in the eyes of her family. Svelte Rosali is on a constant diet, thinking she is too fat; Pancha is childless and has been abused by her husband; Carmen thinks she is pregnant at 50, that all she has done in life is mother children... and Ana, still a teenager, wants to be free of her family and her work and to get a scholarship to go to NYU to become a writer.
Lopez's two act play explores with great comedic detail the flaws and dreams of all of the ladies, proving, as in Steel Magnolias, that women are ultimately valuable and that a sense of community and close friendship help to make them whole...and to make their dreams come true. The 2002 film is much sadder and realistic, never resolving the rift between Carmen and her daughter Ana, who comes of age, finally finds a boy friend, in spite of her size, and leaves home for UCLA without her mother's approval. At movie's end they are still not speaking to one another. Realism is a must for this kind of movie exploring the practically defeated Latino world of east Los Angeles in the 80s. The stage allows for big theatrical magic and so the dreams of Estela creating her own boutique and a line of clothes for big women could happen. Ana can become a famous writer and her family can come out on top as well. Why not? In the new millenium it has already started to happen for Latinos who have waited outside the spotlight for so very many years.
One of the funniest scenes in the play happens when Ana (also in the movie) takes off her clothes in the factory in front of all the women, due to the tremendous heat. She strips down to her bra and panties, and eventually so do the rest - even Carmen - showing once and for all - that real women have curves. It's a screamingly hilarious scene full of liberation and self-acceptance.
Under Sueko's seemless direction, the cast are simply superb. They have great chemistry and alone deliver touching and delightfully appealing performances. Araceli, Dempsey, Frias, DeLaCruz and Oliu all deliver the goods big time... and the play has a rollicking, over.the.top ending with a fashion parade of all five women strutting their natural, beautiful stuff. Big women are indeed beautiful and deserve recognition, especially these Latinas who have paid a heavy price of struggling to survive with low self-esteem.
David F. Weiner's set design of the factory is spot.on real, and Abel Alvarado's costumes are boldly colorful adding mucho to the play's theme of diversity and liberation.