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“Real Women Have Curves” by Josefina Lopez is closing out the thirty-third season at the Depot Theatre. Set in a tiny sewing factory in Los Angeles in 1987, this comedy explores the lives and dreams of five full-figured Mexican-American women as they work to meet an almost impossible deadline. The youngest, Ana, dreams of a different future – college and becoming a writer, while her older sister Estela dreams of her sewing business becoming a success and becoming “legal.” “Real Women Have Curves” opens a window on both women’s roles in Mexican-American culture and on the Latina immigrant experience.
Jonathan Wentz has designed a very good set that fills the small Depot stage and still leaves room for the actors – quite a feat. A set of stairs visible through high basement windows leads down from the street to the only entrance. There are four sewing machine tables, clothes racks, a small refrigerator and center a table and chairs. A small curtained toilet alcove down left provides a useful private playing space.
Isabella Byrd’s lighting is very good and, wisely, one sewing machine light is left on during blackouts, a necessary aid for the actors amidst the clutter. Jean Brookman’s costumes are, as usual, good, especially those for the final parade. She’s also to be complimented for her choice of utilitarian underwear.
Unfortunately the cast is very uneven. However, Norma Perez-Hernandez does a nice job in her professional debut as young Ana, especially in her monologues. As Rosalie, who’s attempting to diet her way to glamour, Wilma Rivera is lively and effervescent.
Denise Estrada is fine as Estela struggling with managing the ladies, especially her mother, as well as the fact that she’s the only one without a green card. Her story of her unsuccessful date is very powerful.
Carmen, Estela and Ana’s mother, is played by Sonia Torres, whose ineffective and expressionless performance leaves a big hole in the center of the play, particularly in Act I. First, her accent is pretty much impenetrable and it’s difficult to tell whether she’s speaking English or Spanish. Second, she doesn’t respond to the other characters with any apparent emotion. There’s just no “there” there.
The strongest performance is that of Elle De Amor as Pancha. She has created a three-dimensional character that we can understand and empathize with. She also has good comic timing and one of my favorite lines. During a discussion of unwanted marital sex she delivers wise advice. “Just say no, get out of bed…and take the blanket.”
Director Norma Medina has done a nice job of staging, particularly of the comparison of fat. This could be touchy, but it’s actually very funny. A nice touch is having all five stand and grab their purses whenever they think immigration is sighted, even though four of the five are now legal. I was a bit confused by the focus of Ana’s monologues. Are they intended to be direct address to the audience? If so, it’s unclear. I wish she had helped her actors, with the exception of Miss De Amor who’s just fine, come up with more fully developed characters – first and foremost Miss Torres.
The Depot is to be congratulated for producing “Real Women Have Curves”. It expands our knowledge and understanding of a subject and culture most of us have no first-hand knowledge of. (I should mention it’s unsuitable for children under 12.) Unfortunately in this production some of the pieces don’t quite fit and a lot of the humor and power are lost.
On a scale of one to five the Depot Theatre production of “Real Women Have Curves” gets three and two-thirds boxcars.