The shape of things

Real Women Have Curves

In addition to curves, these real women have stressful workplace visits from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

In addition to curves, these real women have stressful workplace visits from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Rated 4.0

The good-natured irony that runs through Josefina Lopez’ comedy Real Women Have Curves flows naturally out of the onstage situation. We meet five Latinas who are (to put it one way) curvaceous, or who (to put it another way) rank significantly higher on the body-mass index than their doctors would approve of. In other words, they’re flirting with obesity—at least as it’s defined by modern medicine.

They’re also working in some sort of small-scale Los Angeles sweatshop. The women get paid $13 per garment to make dresses that are sized to fit skinny fashion models and will sell for $200 or more. They couldn’t squeeze into the garments or afford to buy them, even if they tried.

The absurdity of this situation is not lost on these ladies—each of whom represents a different position on the spectrum of immigrant Latina experiences. One’s a mother of eight who’s married to a man who gets violent on occasion. Another is in her 30s and is worried because she’s childless. The others are single—including one who’s planning to move to New York, attend college and become a writer. (That she’s doing her writing on a second-hand typewriter she’s just purchased is one of the clues that Lopez must have written this play years ago.)

Although Real Women qualifies as a comedy with a message—about earning a decent wage, standing up to mistreatment from men and taking pride in the body that life and genetics have given you—this is nonetheless a funny and lighthearted play. Recurrent jokes stem from the characters’ weakness for junk food, their prolonged fretting over “La Migra” (the Immigration and Naturalization Service) even though most of them have earned green cards, and a delightfully silly scene in which everyone strips down to their underwear and compares over-padded thighs and stretch marks. There’s also a bit of girl talk about sex.

Director Manuel Pickett, who also handled last year’s noteworthy References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot in the same venue, sustains the mood skillfully and gets good performances out of Ethel Birrell, Sojourna Florez-Jennings, Christina Martinez, J. Andrea “YaYa” Porras and Khimberly Marshall. (Marshall is African-American, but she’s also one of the more experienced members of the cast. She does fine in this Latina role.) There’s a nice set by Mark Reddick, with sewing machines and a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

This co-production by California Stage and Pickett’s Teatro Espejo also marks the latter’s ongoing emergence as more of a community group—for the last few years, it’s operated as more of a subsection within the California State University, Sacramento, theater department. It’s good to see Latino plays being mounted out in town.