PLAYWRIGHT, JOSEFINA LOPEZ, BRINGS A NEW LOOK TO 'WOMEN WITH CURVES’, WITH A CELEBRATION OF FULL FIGURED WOMEN AND A BRILLIANT COMMENT ON IMMIGRATION.
The Dress Factory is open this fall at DMT as they open their 37th season with the Nor Cal premier of the polished REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES. Josefina Lopez, the playwright of the play and film, revamped the script for the Pasadena Playhouse, and Bay Area audiences are now treated to this important play. REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES is now on stage at the Douglas Morris stage through Sept 18th. “DMT is tremendously excited to be presenting the regional premiere of Ms. Lopez’s updated version – which first premiered at the Mission Cultural Center over 25 years ago in a production by El Teatro de le Esperanza, and was later turned into a popular film of the same name. Quite a history and quite a life-affirming piece about five women whose voices don’t get heard nearly enough” says Susan E. Evans, DMT’s Artistic Consultant.
First produced in 1990, Lopez adapted the play into a 2002 film starring America Ferrera. Last year the playwright updated and revised the playscript to present day 2015, that premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse to positive reviews. This current production is directed by actor and associate artist at Berkeley’s Shotgun Players, Katja Rivera, who brings an excellent cast of marvelous women to play the heart of this garment factory in East Los Angeles. Lopez brings us the story of five full-figured Latina women who work in this dress sweatshop in East Los Angeles. In order to save their business, they must deliver an impossible order of hand made dresses in one week. The superb Janelle Aguirre plays the teen, Ana, who dreams of going off to college to become a writer, and living the American dream. She is the youngest of the women with dreams of leaving the factory. As Ana writes in her journal, she learns to understand her co-workers for the amazing “real” women they are. This could be a modern day Cinderella story that includes five largely likable characters, and a ton of love and humor, who deal with the stress of immigration raids and harsh working conditions.
The Latina experience is front and center in this very poignant story, and Rivera’s movement of the women through the shop is well executed. With the compelling subtext of passionate women, our five heroines gossip and complain, spill secrets, open their hearts, cry and unite. The first act includes a lot of food and eating and fat jokes “your chichi’s must weigh five pounds each”. Ana is told to get her “Fat Norma Rae” bod off the sewing table after one of her outbursts. The company even disrobe their work clothes and show off their curves and colorful underwear. The radio plays in the background and we hear a talk show where women call in to share their domestic violence stories. The Curves are enduring and the women show their poetic emotions in a very fully realized likable script. Our setting is a sewing factory run by family in an East Los Angeles warehouse. Drug addicts and homeless populate the sidewalks and the hood, but owner Estela Garcia played by the proud and excellent Leticia Duarte is more stressed about the cops and pressures of East LA. Her workers have green cards, but she does not, if she is deported, the factory would close.
Estela's crew besides young Ana, includes 42-year old Pancha played by the stellar, Elena Ruggiero, constantly eating and who wants to be a mom and yearns for a child. The other women in the shop are just as colorful, the thin neurotic, Rosali, played by local favorite, Emily Alvarado, is addicted to diet pills; she is never happy with her body. Grandma Carmen played by the feisty Annette Oliveira is Estela’s mom who is also a dress maker. The crew is under stress to finish an order for 100 dresses that will sell at Bloomingdale’s. During the crush to meet their deadline the machines fail, Rosali falls ill, and tempers bust open over their awful wages and the 110 heat in the shop. Yet with all the stress and overheated sweatshop conditions the sirens find time to laugh, gossip, bitch, eat and bond. The curves are all in fun and Ana the story’s heart is confident with her size and in her classic underwear monologue she proclaims “women are powerful and beautiful” and she gets the other women to strip as well. Aguirre is charming as Ana and shows a passion of a dreamer and strong will, confident person who is comfortable in her own skin.
Ruggiero as Pancha is dynamic and eagerly delivers some of the best curvy lines in Lopez’s script as she hopes to get pregnant someday. Alvarado is keen and perfect as Rosali and her “I am not hungry” issue only becomes a factor for her eating disorder. Along with Annette Oliveira who scores most of the laughs and charm of the play in the role of grandma Carmen ”take a look at these stretch marks” she shouts as she steals the strip scene. Leticia Duarte leads the team with a memorable performance as worried shop owner Estela. Lopez takes this story to a heartwarming finish, the women fight laugh and cry as Ana hides her diary behind the toilet and it is her key to being “Fat and beautiful”. The power of this story is important. The five workers are more themselves as they move through action including some fear after Estela has to hide from a possible ICE inspection, and the possibility of deportation. The heat and sticky feel of the factory worked its way into the Douglas Morrison Theatre as the opening night crowd were fanning themselves. Rivera’s direction captures the heartache in the garment shop with comic timing and movements. She orchestrated the overlapping dialog and busy scenes as Estela does her own thing as the others carry the story. We can feel that smell and sticky feeling the women must go through on a average work shift.
Scenic designer, Andrea Bechert, has done a slick job bringing a hidden sweatshop to life with a detailed set full of character and space for action to happen in various rooms. The detail to a East LA dress factory is impressive, and her power rack that hangs above the women adds that caged effect. Windows are mysterious and as the theatre warmed up opening night we only hope the women would crack those windows open. The theatre gets very warm and we feel the same stressful heat the women feel working under those conditions. The costumes by Courtney Flores are colorful and add character for each of the women. With large tops and bright wear for Carmen and Pancha, a pizza tee Shirt for Ana, and Estela purposely wears clothes that don’t fit her. The underwear scene is well done with simple flair, but still colorful and gives all the cast beautiful curves. The lighting by Allen Willner brings a bright look to a dingy setting and most impressive was the light that booms in whenever they open the front door. The scene transitions were filled with modern pop tunes with a woman's subtext, sound design by Donald Tieck that is spot on. But the sound of sewing machines is real, this prop heavy set and story included everything to create dresses including mannequins, spools of fabric and racks of dresses all arranged by prop master Wayne Roadie.
Sixteen years ago REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES premiered at the Boyle Heights Theater company Lopez founded, and it is still going strong. Lopez's latest play, Drunk Girl opened at Casa 0101 last year. And her topic continues "Exploring the struggles of women to have power over their bodies, their lives and their destinies." Lopez wants to explore that experience and share it. In this new version of “Curves” there is no flan but the topic on the table besides women are perfect in their curves is the emotion of how immigration laws can destroy the dream. The five women of course get through the drama an end the two hour story with a glamorous fashion show of dresses they made; the music is cranked up and Ana and women show off their glamour and it is beautiful. Congrats to Susan E. Evans, DMT’s Artistic Consultant, for bringing this updated work to this East Bay stage. It is powerful and important. Evans’ contribution to Hayward’s only regional theatre, continues with the announcement of an excellent season "I am still helping to staff it in my consultant capacity - that's "It's a Wonderful life: A Live radio Play", and what I am most excited by, a world premiere of "Charley's Aunt '66" (setting the old farce at 1966 Stanford U.) which is by my good friend and colleague Scott Munson. And DMT will close out with the musical revue, "Side by Side by Sondheim." said Evan's. In the mean time REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES is an excellent way to open your fall season of theatre in the Bay Area.
Douglas Morrisson Theatre, Presents
REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES
By Josefina Lopez
Directed by Dale Katja Rivera,
with Elena Ruggiero, Emily Alvarado, Annette Amelia Oliveira,
Janelle Aguirre, and Leticia Duarte.
Through: Sept 18, 2016
Douglas Morrisson Theatre,
22311 North Third Street, Hayward,
Running time: 2 hours, one intermission,
Tickets: $29-$32; 510-881-6777,
photos by Terry Sullivan