BWW Review: REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES at Desert Theatreworks brings laughs and insight
Desert Theatreworks, the Valley's fastest-growing theatre company, has stepped outside of their pattern of familiar Broadway hits with their current production of Real Women Have Curves. The audience is the winner! Director Rebecca Havely has taken five dynamite actresses, a 1987 script, and presented a production that is as relevant as this morning's headlines. Fortunately, it is delivered with so many laughs and so much love that any messages and societal observations are secondary. It's a genuine feel-good evening in the theatre.
Five Latinas work together in an inner-city sweatshop, hustling to meet a deadline on 200 dresses. Owner Estella (Selene Canchola) employs her sister Ana (Kaylyn Bernal) and mother Carmen (Ramona Larson), as well as Rosali (Arissa Avila on opening night, Stephanie Jauregul the rest of the run) and Pancha (Adriana Reyes) to make the dresses. It would be meaningless to pick a favorite actress; the strength of the piece is that each lady is a well-defined individual within a delightful mixture, much like individual instruments in an orchestra combining to make beautiful music.
As a male, I've got to confess that I faced an all-female play with trepidation; I certainly hate the female gabfests which seem to dominate daytime TV. However, I was quickly put at ease by these realistic ladies who were neither political nor preachy. Their conversations quickly segued from relatives-as-employees to green cards, men, diets, sewing machines, poverty, and feminine curves. The only villains are offstage: la migra (immigration officers); men whose interest in the ladies is for things other than their minds; and a contractor who sets unrealistic deadlines for her dress order, and who bolsters her demands with threats. Nothing binds a group like a shared antagonist, and these ladies certainly display the bond that women seem to create much more than men do. Throughout the first act, I felt that the title of the show did the play a disservice. Sure, most of the gals tended towards full-figured, but that was only one component of their lives and I wanted the title to include their other aspects as well. However, the second act explains the title, and it was truly the right choice.
Although the script is almost 30 years old, the themes of immigrants working and settling into the US, #MeToo, and body shaming/loving are topics under constant review today. Director Havely mentioned that she made fewer than ten very slight changes to the script. I'm going to guess that similar situations to this workplace exist every day in nearby Indio neighborhoods.
As with all of DTW's shows this season, the set was designed by company Artistic Director, Lance Phillips-Martinez, and it served the play well. The gray walls of the sweat shop had a prison-like effect, with the only color coming from a stained glass window which the ladies use to view men, ICE agents, and general life outside the workroom. Phil Murphy's lighting continued the sense of confinement, particularly in the murky bathroom and in one nighttime scene. Sound levels were being explored on opening night, but settled in pretty quickly. Tess Walker, Haley Rose Whitehead, Maddox Martinez, Christine Michele, Michelle Mendoza, Stephanie Jauregui and Miguel Gomez kept the technical components moving smoothly. The show runs a very comfortable 100 minutes including an intermission.
Desert Theatreworks has announced their 2019-2020 season, and it is certainly their most ambitious ever, with five plays and five musicals. Tickets for the current show and next season are available at www.dtworks.org or 760-980-1455.
Photo by Paul Hayashi