Review: These 5 ‘Real Women’ are proud of their curves, and rightly so
I just walked through the front door of Estela’s Garcia’s tiny sewing factory in an industrial part of East Los Angeles.
And I’m not speaking in the metaphorical sense.
Pictured at top: Alina Gonzalez, left, Julia Prieto and Dalicia Torrecillas in ‘Real Women Have Curves.’ Photo / Selma Arts Center
One of the best things about Selma Arts Center’s fierce and scrappy production of Josefina López’s “Real Women Have Curves” is that all the audience members sit on the stage. When you enter the theater, the house (where people usually sit) is empty. Instead, you take a few stairs up to the stage, walk through a door — and, just like that, you’re immersed.
With the audience in risers on opposite sides in tennis-court-style seating, it’s as if we’re practically on the floor of the factory.
The production continues through Sunday, Sept. 16, and the run includes a couple of special events. The playwright will be guest of honor at tonight’s performance (Thursday, Sept. 13). And a fundraising brunch on Sunday will precede the final performance.
Some thoughts on the show:
The play: López’s raw and passionate work, which premiered in 1990, retains its gutsy feel all these years later. The playwright updated it slightly to include contemporary references (Instagram and ICE, aka Immigration and Customs Enforcement), but other than that, all of the major themes resonate exactly as they did nearly 20 years ago: gender politics, body image, generational conflict, maternal and sibling relationships, bad working conditions. And, of course, the theme so big that it dominates our national politics today: immigration.
The storyline: Ana (Julia Prieto), our narrator, is a smart, outspoken young woman who wants to go to college but can’t afford it. She’s been drafted into working long hours for her older sister, Estela (Dalicia Torrecillas), a budding entrepreneur. Their mother, Carmen (Yvette Montijo), also works there. Two other women round out the tight-knit group: Rosali (Alina Gonzalez), who is constantly dieting; and Pancha (Ethel Birrell at the first weekend, Ellie West at the second), who is skeptical of Ana’s “new ideas” about the role of women in society. The five women work furiously through the play on a big order with a strict deadline; if they don’t make it, Estela might lose the factory.
The direction: Haley White and Juan Luis Guzmán co-direct the show, and they’ve put a lot of care into it. Erik Andersen’s set is a jumbled delight, stuffed with the small details of daily routine that make a place look worked in: tin foil on the bottom window panes; the aging lockers; the toilet just parked on the factory floor with just a wrap-around curtain for privacy. There are many finely staged moments. That said, this production wobbles at times. Transitions between scenes can be awkward. The use of freezes feels inconsistent. In terms of pacing, the first act has a rambling quality, while the second is more confident. And I never quite felt the fear of the women when they think that ICE agents are after them. It’s almost as if some of those moments are played with a too light-hearted tone.
Related story: FROM SELMA CITY COUNCIL TO SELMA ARTS CENTER: ALL IN A DAY’S WORK FOR THIS ‘REAL’ WOMAN (WITH CURVES)
The acting: While experience levels in the cast vary, each of the women brought something distinctive to the ensemble at the opening-weekend performance I attended. Prieto’s moment musing on how every dress has a backstory was deeply affecting. Montijo brought a rough-hewn sense of realism to her role as sharp-tongued mother while still offering a folksy authenticity. Birrell delivered a tough, matronly air, while Gonzalez brought a sense of brittle vulnerability.
The standout: I am very impressed with Torrecillas’ portrayal of Estela. Her ability to slip between frazzled and emphatic kept her performance from being one-note. And her willingness to strip down emotionally and bare her soul adds to the production.
The big scene: Yes, it’s there, and I’m not going to spoil it if you don’t know it already. The moment feels very intimate (because you’re sitting so close) and empowering. If you’re going to do “Real Women,” you have to commit to it all the way, and this cast does so with enthusiasm and pride. (Guzmán, White, Camille Gaston and Nicole Spate do a fine job with the costumes as well.)
The takeaway: This isn’t the most polished Selma production you’ll see this year, but it has a terrific sense of camaraderie, a lot of heart, and will boost just about anyone’s self-esteem. And when it comes to such pressing issues as immigration, López’s play remains as relevant as ever.