In “Real Women Have Curves,” five Latina women work in a small tailoring factory in East LA, enduring long hours and sweltering summer heat to make luxury dresses for the svelte, wealthy women who we imagine wear them. to sip cocktails by the pool at an expensive house party in West LA. It sounds like a tough setting for a comedy, but that’s the intention behind Josefina Lopez’s play, now presented by 6th Street Playhouse.
Estela (Anakarina Swanson), the owner of the “Garcia Sewing Factory” is worried. The factory barely makes enough money to keep running – in fact, it owes all of its employees unpaid wages. Ana (Reilly Milton), his younger sister and recent high school graduate, is only there in pain as she dreams of being a writer. Carmen (Rosa Reynoza), mother of Estela, Ana and several other invisible children, fears she may be pregnant again. Pancha (Alexa Jimenez) desperately wants to be pregnant and secretly wonders why God made her a woman. Rosali (Bethany Regan) will do whatever it takes to be slim enough to fit in one of these size two dresses. On top of all that, with four of the five women being legal immigrants, Estela has neglected to come around to drop off her papers – which means no matter how hot she keeps the door closed and a constant eye on ICE ( and not the type of cooling).
To save the factory and protect Estela, the five women are tasked with making 100 dresses in a week. All the while, stories are told, laughs are shared, and the occasional tension erupts, but the bonds between these women hold them together. “Real Women Have Curves” is loosely based on the playwright’s own experience growing up as an undocumented immigrant and working for five months in her sister’s small sewing factory. The play tackles themes of feminism, body shaming and domestic violence, but the playwright is determined to tread lightly, inserting moments of humor that make viewing comfortable, but often come at the expense of helping us to understand what these women must endure as impoverished, invisible, and largely powerless Latina immigrants in California.
In 6th Street production, the set, while finely detailed, looks pretty and even spacious rather than the clammy, claustrophobic surroundings you might expect. Despite the pressing need to make the dresses in time, the women are more apt to chat than get to work and, except when the lines dictate otherwise, seem mostly indifferent to what must be almost unbearable heat. There are frequent references in the play to police and immigration, but perhaps in the interest of keeping things light, we’re never given a real sense of the dangers that await to ambush these women in the outside world. That lack of urgency wasn’t helped on preview night by a slow pace and a cast that hadn’t fully established their relationships with each other, but those factors will likely improve as the game progresses. spectacle will settle in, and a faster tempo will help convey both the comedy and the deeper tensions that can and should exist simultaneously if only to heighten comic relief.
By the way, “Real Women Have Curves” was published in 1996. Unfortunately, despite the passage of time, it’s hard to believe that much has improved for documented and undocumented Latina immigrants today.
“Real Women Have Curves” plays at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa through May 29. The duration is two hours, including a 15-minute intermission. View times and tickets at https://6thstreetplayhouse.com/