REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVESy Josefina Lόpez
Dallas Theater Center
Directed by Christie Vela*
Scenic Design -Arnulfo Maldonado
Costume Design – Danielle Nieves
Lighting Design – Amanda West
Sound Design – John M. Flores
Hair & Make-Up Design – Nicole Alvarez
Graffiti Artist – Jose BONE Garcia
Stage Manager – Wendy Blackburn Eastland*
Assistant Stage Manager – Emily Burke*
Production Manager – Majel Cuza
Associate Production Manager – Phil Baranski
Production Assistant – Alexandra Hernandez
Producer – Sarahbeth Grossman
Casting – Binder Casting, Chad Eric Murnane, CSA
Fight Coordinator – Nicole Berastequi
Assistant Scenic Designer – Corey Umlauf
Assistant Costume Designer - Lauryn Terceira Moles
Fight Captain – Vanessa DeSilvio
Carmen - Blanca Araceli*
Pancha, Esperanza - Gloria Vivica Benavides*
Rosali, Caller - Vanessa DeSilvio*
Ana - Tatiana Lucia Gantt*
Estela - Jamie Rezanour*
Christopher Llewyn Ramirez – Disc Jockey**
* Member of Actor’s Equity Association
Reviewed Performance: 5/1/2019
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The great majority of the action spans a work week that will make or break the twenty-four year old Latina factory owner, Estela (Jamie Rezanour). Her mother Carmen (Blanca Araceli) and sister Ana are there to help, although in Carmen’s case, the line between help and bossing wears thin at times. The all-Latina staff is rounded out with the feisty Pancha (Gloria Vivica Benavides) and the sweet and bubbly Rosali (Vanessa DeSilvio).
Blanca Araceli is convincing, entertaining, and all-around phenomenal as the alternatively nagging and encouraging, yet always loveable, mole-sauce-wielding, wisecracking matriarch. When she finds a “whole pile of dirty books” one of her sons left in the garage, she of course brings one to the factory and shares it with Pancha and Rosali. We don’t get to see the pictures, but their reactions are hysterical.
When a grumpy Ana disclaims interest in baked goods, Carmen quips, “At least you won’t get fatter.” As the title suggests, the internalized body-shaming of American culture is one battle that the women address. They do so to varying degrees and in different ways. One has an eating disorder, the other sees losing weight as a capitulation to tyranny, and another sees obesity as an (ineffective) means of birth control (or that was just a joke). The resolution dovetails with Estela’s ultimate epiphany, which leads her to change her economic circumstances.
Estela, played with great sympathy and precision by a talented Jamie Rezanour, is hopelessly in love and perilously in debt. Economic injustice is a powerful theme here, and Estela’s backstory is one illustration. An unidentified accident, which may or may not be the reason why Estela is viewed as ineligible for marriage, landed Estela enough money to buy the small sewing factory. But her luck, if that is what it was, ends there. She is paid $13 dollars each for dresses that retail for approximately $200, and the evil Mrs. Glitz abuses her power by finding excuses to slow pay. Thus Estela falls behind on payments for what is, also unfairly, faulty equipment, and she is a defendant in a civil collections suit.
Estela’s problems do not end there. This play is decades old, but it explores several themes that are hot button issues today, including the abuse of immigrants. Mrs. Glitz is threatening not to pay the money she owes if Estela cannot prove her legality. The women wield their green cards as shields against the ever-present threat of “La Migra” (now we call it I.C.E.)—except Estela, who does not have one. Pancha is so conditioned to be terrified of deportation that she keeps forgetting that she’s “legal now.” Estela is not, because of a comically minor criminal offense—something so trivial that a white or wealthy person would not have been arrested for it in the first instance, or even were they, it would be a punch line at dinner parties rather than a life-altering catastrophe. Estela cannot apply for (Reagan’s) amnesty with a criminal record and a collections lawsuit looming.
What Estela has going for her is greater than this catalogue of woes: She is smart, hard working, and part of a family and community that has her back. Her workers are forgiving when she is slow on paying them, and, with a few comic exceptions (this play does have a Fight Coordinator), they put up with the sweltering work conditions. The power of women working together is an overarching message. Men are physically absent, and various references to them, with few exceptions, reveal their uselessness, and worse.
The beautiful Vanessa DeSilvio does a fantastic job with the secret her character is ultimately unsuccessfully trying to keep from the others, and makes Rosali’s good-girl cheeriness endearing.
Rosali’s eternal optimism is counter-balanced by Pancha’s hard edges. As Pancha, Gloria Vivica Benavides shows us a character more wise and wounded than her hard boiled veneer would suggest. It is a studied, layered performance. She brings down the house when her character proves to have a veritable clown car of junk food improbably stashed in her bag.
We see a lot of these women—I mean a lot. Like, seriously, a lot. You have to buy a ticket to find out what I am talking about here. (It’s all good.)
The artistry of the costume and scene design is exquisite. Most of the action takes place in the bedraggled factory, but at one point, the set opens up to expose a powerfully colorful, gigantic mural, and the costumes become artistic masterpieces. Sparing no detail, the DTC hired a Graffiti Artist, Jose BONE Garcia, to deliver the audience into the streets of East L.A. Colorful bilingual or Spanish advertisements complete the effect. The factory itself looks authentic down to the last detail: the push button phone, the coffee maker, the spools of thread stashed in the tiny bathroom, and the cross hanging over the fire extinguisher coalesce to bring us into a 1980’s sweat shop.
John Flores’ sound design achieves feats of engineering. In addition to distinguishing between the street and interior sources of a wide variety of noises, the humming of several sewing machines waxes and wanes. When one character complains of going deaf from the noise, the audience completely understands—although the sound does not come close to deafening us. The radio recreates a 1980’s boom box. Both the sound and lighting shifts are important in cueing the passage of time. The lighting design is also phenomenal, particularly in transforming the mood and setting at the end.
Each character is superbly brought to life by this talented cast. Director Christie Vela is a blessing to the Dallas Theater community, and here does a grand job of bringing the undercurrents of each of these characters and the various social themes together. Speaking of her own experiences, Vela says of the women who raised her: “Their wisdom, humor, tenacity, dreams, worries, and even their fears made me strong. I owe what I am to the women who came before. We all do.”
Vela’s experiences with the women who raised her are in sync with the playwright’s message. I was able to catch the Q&A with author, Josefina Lόpez, at the Bishop Arts Theatre Center, where Real Women Have Curves was produced in 2011. Ms. Lόpez was born in Mexico and was five years old when her family moved to the United States. She received amnesty in 1987 and became a United States citizen in 1995. Ms. Lόpez wears many hats, and among them, has been a community activist for the past two decades, including working to revitalize the East L.A. Boyle Heights neighborhood that is her home. She views art as making us whole, and believes that through art, life-shattering trauma may be healed. One take-away quote from the lively discussion, moderated by playwright and director Jonathan Norton, is: “Money is a substitute for the energy we exchange.”
The play Real Women Have Curves was first penned when Ms. Lόpez was nineteen and it explores her relationship with her mother. Mom had few opportunities and lacked a formal education, but she was a natural story teller. The author’s appreciation of her mother’s position as a “Third World Feminist” blossomed when Ms. Lόpez went to work with her at a sewing factory. There, the effects of “economic violence” came into focus for the first time.
Ms. Lόpez told me that when this play was originally produced, people considered her too “sensitive” for calling out racism, and that now, what she has been saying all along is more openly acknowledged. I so wish what she has said for so long were not true in the first instance, but that’s for another discussion. Suffice that, being true, it needs to be said, and kudos to Dallas Theater Center for producing this timely and important work.
The Dallas Theater Center’s mission statement includes inspiring our diverse community. In that vein, this production, with its timely themes, succeeds. The gorgeous program includes a bilingual message from Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty. I highly recommend this play as both highly enjoyable and thematically important.
Dallas Theater Center
April 26 – May 19, 2019
Kalita Humphreys Theater
3636 Turtle Creek Blvd., Dallas, Texas 75219
For information and Tickets call 214 880-0202 or go to www.DallasTheaterCenter.org.