I ended a season at The Depot Theatre by watching the final performance of Real Women Have Curves, a thought-provoking comedy-drama that deals with illegal immigration, women’s sexual rights, and learning how to accept yourself and your body.
Sneaky Cat on Stage
Mo, the infamous black cat of the theatre, made an appearance on stage for the final show! As the actors first came on stage Mo pranced out the door with them and decided to hide amongst some dress racks stage right. She eventually made her way down the stairs, and I watched as she leisurely walked up the aisle toward the back of the audience to take in the rest of the show from there.
Five Real Women
Each of the five female performers lends a distinct presence to the show in a very well-rounded cast.
Ana (Norma Perez-Hernandez) is the young feminist who wants more out of life. She initially looks down on the others for not wanting educations and for not taking her seriously when she offers them her ideas of enlightenment.
Estela (Denise Estrada) is Ana’s older sister, and she owns the sewing factory. She is hardworking but shy, though she proves to have a streak of stubbornness in the face of adversity.
Carmen (Norma Medina) is the mother of Ana and Estala. She loves to gossip, frequently distracting the other women, and she accidentally causes a few mishaps in the factory.
Pancha (Elle de Armor) is a sarcastic and sometimes antagonistic character, but she also evokes sympathy when she secretly bemoans her infertility to the audience. She often complains, and the others suspect she may quit or betray the factory to deportation authorities after a fight with Estela. In the end she proves to be a steadfast friend.
Rosali (Wilma Rivera) is a peacemaker between the women. She is the skinniest of them all, but she is secretly taking diet pills and makes herself ill. She seems to suffer from some type of anorexic/eating disorder.
Sympathy for Illegal Immigration
Until recently, all of the women had been illegal immigrants, but now only Estela is without a Green Card. She is being sued for not making payments on expensive (yet sometimes faulty) sewing equipment, and she also apparently caught a lobster out of season, both hurdles prevent her from securing legal resident status in the United States.
We get a view of the sympathetic side of illegal immigration from the immigrants’ point of view. Throughout the play Carmen is constantly seeing a van or a suspicious person that she believes is with deportment officials. All of the women, not just Estela, are constantly afraid of a raid even though they are legal citizens now.
Estela’s diligence has made the sewing factory successful despite sub-par equipment and too few workers, and yet her precarious status as an illegal immigrant challenges her success.
Women’s Sexual Freedom & Body Acceptance
Ana is a feminist. She strives to make the other women realize that they have the right to say, “No!” But the others are older and jaded. They tell Ana that she’s too young to know what she’s talking about and she’ll realize how things really are once she’s married. It’s always more complicated than a simple refusal, they assure her.
Later Carmen reveals that one of the reasons she doesn’t mind that she’s overweight is that her husband is less sexually interested in her. We get another example of this hardship when Estela goes on a date with her crush and he inadvertently demeaned her as an overweight sexual object.
During the play Carmen believes that she may be pregnant. This upsets Pancha because it would be an unwanted baby added to the large number of children Carmen already has. Pancha confesses to the audience that her infertility makes her less of a woman. Although a woman should not harshly judge herself because she is unable to conceive, Pancha’s performance reminds us of a prevalent social bias: if a woman isn’t able to bear children (by a certain age), then something must be wrong with her.
There is a shocking scene in Act II when the women strip down to their undergarments in an effort to show Rosali that she is not fat and has no reason to be ashamed. Though large, they are still beautiful. Mentioned throughout the play, the women would lament that they would never be able to wear the dresses they make because only small sizes are ordered.
Estela comes up with the idea to start making designer dresses in larger sizes because bigger women deserve nice clothes too! She ends up with a new contract with another company, and the factory is saved. The women end the show modeling new dresses down the runway to “I’m to sexy.”
Setting and Set Design
Real Women Have Curves is set in a tiny sewing factory in Los Angeles, 1987. Estela opened the factory and runs it with just her mother Carmen, her sister Ana, and two other women.
The set design for this production was well executed, creating the illusion of a cramped, underground sewing factory. I was fortunate to go backstage and discover how the illusion of a basement was created. Through the use of building two stairways and some platforms behind what appeared to be the back wall the effect of being underground was achieved. In that wall were two basement-style windows that allowed the audience to see characters walking down to the level of the stage. Jonathan Wentz, a veteran Depot Theatre set designer, should be commended for solving this staging challenge.
Including some controversial and certainly thought-provoking issues this play was both entertaining and inspiring. The Depot Theatre certainly fulfilled the task of using the arts to stimulate and amuse its audiences.