Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Real Women Have Curves
Teatro Nuevo Mexico
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Rob's review of Julius Caesar and Stephanie's review of West Side Story


Image Courtesy of Teatro Nuevo Mexico
I first saw Real Women Have Curves when it was released as a film in 2002. The movie, which introduced America Ferrera to film audiences, won a number of awards. The story began as a play by Josephina Lopez, who was a co-writer for the film script. The film was a lovely and powerful look at life for Latino women in 1980s East Los Angeles. As well as looking at immigration issues, the film explores body image.

Director Salome Martinez Lutz and the Teatro Nuevo Mexico production company have brought the story back to its theatrical roots at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. The story is set in Lopez's home of East Los Angeles, where five Latina women work in a tiny hot sewing factory for $67 per week, less than the era's minimum wage.

The point of view character is Ana (Julia Lee Romero), who has put off college until she can land a scholarship. The factory is owned by her sister Estela (Michelle Estrada Allred). Her mother Dona Carmen (Maria Teresa Herrera) also works in the sweltering shop. Two other women who work in the factory, Pancha (Monica T. Rodriquez) and Rosali (Erica Tenorio), are friends of proprietor Estela more than simply workers. They are all willing to give up their paychecks when Estela hits a financial bind.

While the story displays the tensions and difficulties of immigrants struggling for and, in most cases among these women, gaining legal status, body image is also a running issue. All of the women except young Ana are struggling with their weight. Their excuses vary from, "Screw it, I've had eight kids" to "I just can't seem to lose weight even when I starve myself." Through it all, the mornings start with pastries and high moments are celebrated with cake.

As the story opens, Estella is late in delivering dresses that will ultimately go to Bloomingdale's. Her payment has been held up, and she has fallen behind on her payroll as well as the payments on her sewing equipment. All five women need to work together to make a seemingly impossible deadline of delivering 100 dresses by the end of the week. They work countless overtime hours in an attempt to make it happen.

As the women grapple with their financial and physical challenges, there are grand moments of absolute liberation. When the five dance to the radio blasting a scratchy "Tequila," the beauty of the women comes through powerfully. My daughter spent a decade with the New Mexico Ballet Company, so I've seen way more than my share of beautiful slender girls in romantic ballets, but rarely have I seen a dance as moving as these five actors in full character expression.

Another powerful scene comes toward the end of the play when Ana strips to her underwear because of the heat in the factory. While aghast at first, the older women can't argue when Ana insists, "It just us, and it's really hot." So they strip down to their undies as well, and we get an awkward-yet-exuberant celebration of middle-aged bodies just as they are, freed from the disguise of clothing. These are five brave and honest actors.

Underlying the plot lines of financial struggle and difficulties with body image are the relationships among these five women. They're family—three in actuality, and the other two in spirit. They hang together in support even as they gripe and tease each other. What we see is a subtle display of how a community survives, how it can thrive, and how it ultimately prevails. The acting is solid throughout, and the ultimate affect is more compelling than the very wonderful movie. That, I didn't expect.

Part of the Siembra Latino Theatre Season, Real Women Have Curves, written by Josefina Lopez and directed by Salome Martinez Lutz, will run through March 20, 2016, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Performances are at 7:30 Thursday through Saturday, and at 2:00 on Sunday. Tickets are $18, with a $3 discount for seniors and students. $10 for Thursday performances. For more information or to reserve tickets, call the NHCC at 724-4771, or go to nhccnm.org/events.


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