KPBS AIRDATE: April 13, 1994
In “Real Women Have Curves,” not all the women are real and not all of them have sufficient curves. When playwright Josefina Lopez wrote the piece five years ago (at the tender age of 19), she intended it to be about five zaftig Latinas, just the kind of big women who never get big roles in interesting plays. The inspiration came from personal experience. Lopez, a legalized Mexican immigrant, attended the High School for the Arts in L.A., where she was told she would never get to play a lead, because she was too heavy.
Well, she saw to it that her own dream came true. Making her professional acting debut, Lopez plays her own alter ego in the San Diego Repertory Theatre production of her autobiographical memory play. Truth be told, Lopez the Actor is not as convincing as Lopez the Playwright, and it’s her character that does most of the feminist preaching, through unnecessary diary readings.
But the rest of the characters are very colorful. They are four women plus Lopez as Ana, who are working overtime in an East L.A. sweatshop to finish an order of petite pink satin dresses for Bloomingdale’s. The fact that some of the actresses are not as big as they should be is important because the metaphor should be clear: these women can neither afford nor fit into the dresses they make — or the new America they live in.
In the seminal scene in the play, the most moving and meaningful, the five women strip down to their underwear and, in a powerful display of feminist defiance, bare their flawed bodies, celebrating their unity, their individuality and their potential to pursue the American dream. Even without the extra mounds of flesh, the scene really succeeds, and it’s the moment of greatest ensemble work in the production.
The agonies and apprehensions of these women are real. They still fear La Migra, even though most of them are legal. Some still fear their husbands. They worry about money and men and cellulite and contraception. But in this play, where Lopez wanted positive role models for Latinas, the women earn a happy ending, a slice of the American pie — which is a fitting image, since they start their own business creating and modeling large-size dresses.
“Real Women” is a funny, gritty look at a real environment, magnificently recreated in John Iacovelli’s superbly detailed set. The lighting and costumes are just right, though the sound design is unimaginative and the direction a bit repetitive.
No matter. What is important here is sisterhood as strength and humor as survival. There are some serious laughs in the play, especially as churned up by Lupe Ontiveros as Ana’s side-splitting mother. Roxane Carrasco is delightful as the diet-pill-popping sexpot, Rosali.
The cohesion of the cast should grow during the run, and that should really tighten up the production. But this warm and loving play is engaging as is. Despite recent rewrites, it still has the scent of the playwright’s youth. But it also has the promise of real talent, and the obvious signs of a young writer’s ability to challenge the sexual-political status quo — for Latinas and for real women everywhere.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1994 Patté Productions Inc.