As should be clear to anyone who partakes in any entertainment medium, representation matters. Any time a movie, TV show, or play can move beyond the cultural norms that have existed for decades and show the broad swath of people who actually exist in the world, it changes people’s mindsets, even if the change is only incremental.
Real Women Have Curves, written by Josefina Lopez, has been around for almost 30 years, yet its themes are as relevant now as they’ve ever been. Set in a tiny sewing factory in 1987 Los Angeles, it centers on five Latina women: owner Estela (Jamie Rezanour), her sister Ana (Tatiana Lucia Gantt), her mother Carmen (Blanca Araceli), Pancha (Gloria Vivica Benavides), and Rosali (Vanessa DeSilvio).
The pressures on the women are enormous and numerous. Estela is struggling to keep the factory afloat, and that stress is imparted on the others as she implores them to work harder, longer, and in more extreme conditions than they should. Each in her own way feels the need to live up to societal standards for beauty, as well as ones deriving from their culture. And, despite four of them possessing legal documentation, the threat of a raid by “La Migra” hangs like a dark cloud over everything they do.
That description makes the play sound like a real downer, but it also contains a lot of joy. Because of the small work area, the women know each other inside and out, and that intimacy reveals itself in myriad ways throughout the production. They speak with each other with a candidness and humor that makes each of them instantly relatable and lovable, while still leaving room for surprises.
The direction by Christie Vela and scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado give the characters almost literally nowhere to hide, although the reveal of one character in the first act contradicts that reality nicely. Their innermost desires and fears (and in one memorable second-act scene, much more than that) are laid bare in Lopez’s insightful script.
Three of the five actors are making their Dallas Theater Center debut, with only Benavides and DeSilvio having previous experience with the company. The play is designed so that each is showcased at various points, but the undisputed star is Araceli. She has such an ease in playing the overbearing-yet-endearing Carmen that she steals focus even when she’s not the center of a particular scene.
Special note should be made that this is the third all-female cast to take the stage for Dallas Theater Center this season alone, following Steel Magnolias and The Wolves. The Tony-winning company has been on the forefront of showcasing under-represented groups in the past, and this trend — which will continue with next season’s Little Women — is another indicator that it remains committed to progressive ideals.
By the time the play reaches its fantastic final scene, it has more than proved the worthiness of the talents of the women onstage and behind the scenes. Real women may have curves, but they also know how to tell a compelling story.
Dallas Theater Center's production of Real Women Have Curves plays at the Kalita Humphreys Theater through May 19.