By Eric Marchese
PUBLISHED: September 11, 2017 at 4:55 pm | UPDATED: September 11, 2017 at 4:56 pm
All writers have to start somewhere. For Josefina López, it was in Los Angeles. She and her family settled there after leaving Mexico but lived in constant fear of being caught and deported by immigration officials.
López's first major play, "Real Women Have Curves," depicted these circumstances, with the character of Ana Garcia as the playwright's young alter ego.
Recent high school grad Ana dreams of becoming a writer, escaping the hardscrabble life of working at a tiny East Los Angeles sewing factory – but college is an unaffordable and distant goal.
In Costa Mesa Playhouse's production of the 1990 play, we see how López suffuses her story and characters with ethnic flavor and personal details. Anatalia Vallez captures Ana's eye-rolling frustration over sister Estela (Tiffany McQuay), who owns the sweat shop, and their mom, Carmen (Angela Moore), who mocks Ana's weight and her desire to better herself.
Ana hides her journal in the factory's restroom, the only place with any privacy. Her future is dim – and worse still is that Estela, Carmen and shop employees Pancha (Jessica Delgado) and Rosali (Angela Apodaca) ridicule her and refuse to take her seriously.
In director Sara Guerrero's finely atmospheric staging, Vallez's Ana despairs of being dismissed by the other women as a girl and not a peer, yet stoically accepts her circumstances while privately keeping her hopes alive. Ana's imagination emerges in her dreamy musings of the fate of a completed dress and in the way Vallez glows whenever her character speaks of becoming "rich and famous" as a writer.
López's text, updated in 2015 to include changes in immigration laws and the advent of cellphones, accurately depicts the grueling, spirit-sapping grind of making dresses by hand, the struggle to survive on low income and the undocumented Estela's perpetual fear of La Migra.
Ryan Linhardt's set design of Estela's factory creates a high degree of authenticity through an incredible level of detail, while Moisés Vázquez's original music fosters the desired Latino flavor.
Guerrero's well-chosen cast members breathe life into their characters, creating a believable portrait of life as a Mexican woman in a late-'80s U.S. big city, struggling to keep it together, actualize personal hopes and confront personal fears in the face of daunting circumstances.
In the play's focal portrait, McQuay delivers Estela's meticulous, tough-minded personality and conscientious nature regarding her products' quality. She also deftly balances Estela's smarts, admirable business acumen, organizational skills and pride in running her own factory with the ever-looming fear of being deported and losing everything she has worked for.
Moore aptly depicts Carmen's displeasure at having to take orders from her own daughter and her now outmoded habits, customs and beliefs, which she shares with the like-minded Pancha. She also exploits her role's comedic potential through Carmen's candor, which includes jabs at both daughters and reminders that the garment district is populated by "winos and drug addicts."
The sharp-tongued, impassive Pancha appears content within herself, yet Delgado wrings poignancy from Pancha's longing for and inability to have children. Apodaca's Rosali is sweet and agreeable, her obsession with dieting resulting in a pleasing shape but fueling her exaggerated negative self-image of being "fat" and "a cow."
Guerrero and company succeed in showing the everyday realism of this comedic-dramatic slice of life and, more crucially, the tensions that roil the interrelationships of the five women – but also the loyalties and underlying bonds of caring, support and affection that connect them.
'Real Women Have Curves'
When: Through Oct. 1. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa
Tickets: $18 to $20
Length: About two hours
Suitability: Ages 12 and older (for language and content)
Info: (949) 650-5269, http://www.costamesaplayhouse.com