When Josefina Lopez’s first play, “Real Women Have Curves,” premiered at El Teatro de la Esperanza at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco in 1990, the issue of illegal immigration was already highly contentious in America. Twenty years later, it remains just as polarizing — maybe even more so.
“One only has to pass by the demonstrations on the corner of Highway 68 and Blanco in Salinas and see people waving signs supporting the recent Arizona anti-immigration laws to see how emotional this topic remains,” says Susanne Burns, who is directing “Real Women Have Curves” at The Western Stage.
Yet, not very many people have stopped to wonder: Who are these people that so many want to target and send back “home”? What are their lives like? What are their dreams? What do they stand to lose?
Opening September 10, The Western Stage’s production of Josefina Lopez’s acclaimed play answers these questions by shining a light on the lives of undocumented people living in America, revealing their struggles, loves, and fears with humor and compassion. “It’s a play that gives voice to those who don’t have it,” says Burns.
Based on the playwright’s personal experiences, “Real Women Have Curves” explores the plight of undocumented Mexican immigrants living in Los Angeles in 1987 when the Simpson-Rodino Amnesty Law granted thousands of undocumented immigrants living in the United States legal residency. However, dealing with amnesty was not as simple as it might seem for many people who had lived under the fear of deportation their whole lives. As Lopez says in the forward to her play, “thousands, not trusting the government, hesitated to apply, fearing this was a scheme to deport them.”
“Half of the play is about how worried the characters are of being deported,” says Burns. This fear is represented by Estella Garcia, the main character of the play, a young woman pursuing her dream of becoming an entrepreneur by starting a small garment business with the help of friends and family. While everyone around her applies and is granted citizenship, she resists and continues to live with the constant threat of being arrested by the immigration service. As if that weren’t enough, Lopez creates a virtual pressure cooker on stage by setting her drama in Los Angeles during an oppressive heat wave, adding an unreasonable deadline to sew a hundred dresses in only a few days, and throwing in a boyfriend with less than desirable motivations into the mix.
The play also explores our society’s skewed perception of body image in America. “Why do women have to be size seven and eight to be considered beautiful?” Burns asks. The women in this play are not idealized waifs from a Hollywood movie. They are real Latino women. They are proud of who they are, documented or undocumented, thin or heavy.
“It’s really an empowering play,” says Burns. “It empowers women and immigrants to fight for their dreams.”
Technical support is provided by David Parker (Scenic Design), Theodore Michael Dolas (Lighting Design), Rhonda Kirkpatrick (Costumes), and Addy Taylor (Stage Manager).
“Real Women Have Curves” plays through October 3 in the studio theatre, Hartnell College Performing Arts Building. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Season tickets are still always the best option. Reserve your seats through The Western Stage ticket office at (831) 755-6816 or online at westernstage.com. For group sales, contact Ron Cacas at (831) 759-6012.