Theatre Review: HSU’s ‘Real Women’ is the whole package

Photo caption: SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL Marissa Sanchez as Ana and and Fiva Pulu as Estella in Real Women Have Curves at Humboldt State’s Gist Hall Theatre. Photo courtesy HSU Theatre

Lauraine Leblanc
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT STATE – In a garment factory off an alleyway of a bustling city, five Latina women toil to complete a massive order of dresses by the end of the week. It’s too hot, the work is hard, the boss is demanding, and to top it all off, a mysterious van continually sets off fears that La Migra – U.S. immigration agents – are about to break down the door. This timely slice of life is Josefina López’s Real Women Have Curves, the current production by Humboldt State’s Department of Theatre, Film & Dance, running until April 30 at Gist Hall Theatre.

This production could not be more timely, though the play was first performed in the early 1990s, and is set 30 years ago. That its many topics – eating disorders, slut shaming, domestic violence, racism, sexism, deportation and lack of healthcare among them – remain frustratingly current is the only depressing thing about this play, for this is a furiously funny production.

Director Brenda Hubbard assembled a stellar cast of five women, each fully inhabiting their characters: Marissa Sanchez as feminist firebrand Ana; Fiva Pulu as her driven sister, factory owner Estela; Ayanna Wilson as their critical yet loving mother, Carmen; Amy Beltran as caustic and loyal co-worker Pancha; and Irma Gill as smart and delicate co-worker Rosali. Each actress brought their fully realized characters to vivid life, painting a palette of diverse women without ever resorting to type.

They did so in a single room, a garment factory owned by Estela. Brilliantly designed by Ambar Cuevas, the set is a cluttered feast for the eye, meticulously detailed right down to the vintage Gloria Estefan poster on one wall. Cuevas softened the realism with a subtle palette of pastel colors that make this workplace an intimate, magical setting for these dreamers (well, proto-DREAMers).

The play is delivered in a mix of Spanish and English, and the program provides a handy glossary that’s worth looking over if you don’t speak Spanish, though, as it also points out, López’s dialogue cleverly makes the meaning clear. The five actresses, with the help of dialect coach Citali Nava, delivered a seemingly effortless fast-paced stream of chit-chat and chisme, no easy feat.

Those familiar with the 2002 film of the same name, which was cowritten by the playwright, will find it happily familiar, but with more subtle characterizations, a greater focus on female relationships, a different ending and a stronger message. If you liked the movie, you’ll love the play. (Interestingly, the film’s director, Patricia Cardoso, was in town this week as a judge at the Humboldt International Film Festival; did she drop in to see this production?)

HSU Theatre’s production of Real Women Have Curves is a pink pussy hat of a play: cozy, crafty and charming while packing a powerful political message of solidarity, sisterhood and protest. Truly, as the poster states, “excelente cosas vienen en paquetes con curvas.”

 Real Women Have Curves continues April 27, 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinée performance Sunday, April 30. Admission is $10/$8 for students and seniors/free for a limited number of HSU students. Parking on campus is free on weekends. The Theatre Department recommends it for high school age or older. For tickets, call (707) 826-3928.


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