You know how sitcoms that are set in a workplace never show any actual work? It's because we watch TV to escape, not to see characters doing stuff that correlates to our own boring lives, like selling paper products or serving coffee. The exception is in the dramas in which the type of work makes for good drama, like doctoring, lawyering, ghost-hunting and CSI-ing.
It's pretty much the same way in theater, too. People have jobs, but we don't need to see them working. The suggestion of work is enough for us to get recognition of real life, especially when the characters are so ordinary that they have to reflect real people.
Enter Real Women Have Curves, a play by Josefina Lopez in which five women who work in an East LA sewing factory talk about their dreams, fears (notably being deported, for the one character who isn't legal) and take on issues like body image, dating and sexuality.
The play is being produced by TeCo Theatrical Productions, directed by Jonathan Norton, in the Bishop Arts Theatre Center. Considering that the theater is just off a stretch of Oak Cliff's Jefferson Boulevard that is filled with sewing shops and quinceañera boutiques, it's a fantastic choice for this theater, which has a mostly African-American constituency.
Ana (Krishma Trejo) is the teenager who writes in her journal and has to work, against her better judgment, with the ladies of the factory, which is owned by her sister Estela (Lydia Enriquez). The workers include their mother Carmen (Priscilla Rice), Pancha (Bianca Ramirez) and Rosali (Tricia Tamayo). They're pulling an all-nighter to get an order of dresses done so they can have the money to help Estela get her legal status. (Ana and Carmen have theirs, but Estela didn't send off materials, or something like that.)
Every so often there's a knock on the door, or a suspicious vehichle is seen outside, and that raises concern of la migra. When this happens, Carmen screams as if she's being chased by a knife-wielding freak in a slasher flick. If they're trying to hide, wouldn't she want to remain quiet as they all get under the tables?
This slice-of-life workplace comedy struggles with substantial contributions to the ongoing conversations about those aforementioned topics. We get that the INS is hated, men are pigs and women don't need to be size zero, but those topics are superficially touched on in Lopez's script.
Still, there are vivid characters, and several funny scenes, including one that involves the women stripping down to bras and panties, proudly showing their lack of size zero-ness. It's all performed charmingly by a terrific cast, who make the best of it when the play lags. Rice deservedly gets most of those laughs. Trejo is likeable and affecting as the main character who has dreams of being a writer (in the epilogue we find out that she, in fact, became one).
The set design (by Wonder Twins Productions) is nicely detailed, reflecting the research TeCo conducted with the dress shops in the neighborhood.
In an opening video featuring interviews with some of those shop owners, we get a flavor of what life is like in a dress shop, and their importance to the community. It's about real people, real life, real work.
That's probably what Lopez was striving for.