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Real Women Have Curves

Sep 15, 2015

Photo_2My primary reason for recommending the Pasadena Playhouse’s newest production, Josefina López’s Real Women Have Curves, is Blanca Araceli.

Playing Carmen, mami of the well-read, restless, feminist, ambitious Ana and the creative, stressed, worried, and relentless Estrela, Araceli inhabits her character completely. She doesn’t need half of the first act to breathe and get into form, she is Carmen from her first step onto the stage. She’s a Latina and mamá who’s given birth to eight children, readily accepts her role as wife and mother, and relentlessly admonishes her daughters for not being close to marrying and making her an abuela. Carmen is large and sassy, and Araceli’s performance is a joy to witness.

 

Blanca Araceli

Blanca Araceli

 

A second reason to purchase tickets is the semi-strip tease scene. Estrela owns a dress making business, located in an un-air-conditioned warehouse in the Los Angeles garment district. L. A.’s in the midst of a heat wave and the women have been sewing for long hours over many days as a dress order deadline looms. Finally, Ana reaches her limit and whips off her shirt to the dismay of the four other women. But, it’s too hot; propriety be damned. Ana makes her case and before long the other women join in.

This scene, even for those of us who know it’s coming, is a shock, but an embraceable one—we’re all in it together. The audience laughs, initially with eyes wide and emitting sharp, slightly embarrassed yelps, then we are roaring in support of the women (the actresses and the characters) who strip down to their skivvies and girdles, revealing rolls of fat, stretch marks and pregnancy scars. The courage to take this step is touching, the confidence and camaraderie it creates is unmistakable, and the scene is hilarious.

 

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Areas I believe need attention is in the details, especially in regard to the heat wave. It’s hot! It’s unbearable! During our current high temperatures, even washing dishes causes rivulets of sweat to pour down my face. Sitting in my chair at the computer, I’ve had to place hand towels on the armrests because the sweat on my arms makes them slip and slide. The women need to illustrate this more—lifting hair off of one’s neck because it’s soaking back there; fanning of blouses and t-shirts; fanning one’s face with a piece of paper (or the “dirty” book they giggle over). And wouldn’t the women be drinking more water? Wouldn’t sweat be staining their clothes around the armpits and necklines? Only towards the end does Carmen sniff under her arm and grimace from the stink.

Besides, after our temperatures have reached as high as 104ºF, the ninety-two degrees mentioned on the radio several times seems mild in comparison. By re-recording the radio news broadcast to reflect the higher temps we’ve been enduring, the audience will immediately relate to the circumstances and empathize with the characters, segueing more realistically into the liberating strip tease.

 

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Maybe I’m extra sweaty because I am, once again, experiencing hot flashes. Araceli’s Carmen gets told she’s entered menopause, not because of hot flashes and night sweats, unusual irritability and mood swings, memory lapses and dizziness, or joint pain, but because she has a sharp pain on her right side. She interprets this to mean that at 50+ years of age, she is pregnant once again. Really? (I immediately thought, appendicitis.) After 8 kids, Carmen doesn’t know her own body? Even though the other women cast doubt, Carmen explains that every time she and her husband have sex, she gets pregnant, which implies that over twenty-plus years of marriage they’ve only had sex nine times, which seems highly improbable, like fuzzy math.

 

Diana De La Cruz; photo by Rob White Photography

Diana De La Cruz; photo by Rob White Photography

Ingrid Oliu

Ingrid Oliu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cristina Frias

Cristina Frias

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingrid Oliu as Pancha and Diana Dela Cruz as Rosali give solid performances. At times, Cristina Frias as Estela seems forced, while solid during others.

Initially, at this point in the article, I had written that since the mother Carmen keeps admonishing Ana for being fat, when “Ana” (Santana Dempsey) strips down to her sports bra and underwear, it’s a huge discrepancy when we see she is not fat at all. How can Carmen nag Ana about being fat when she is obviously not overweight? This whole part of the story line suddenly didn’t make sense, didn’t ring true. At this time, Adam Kern commented (see comments below), aggressively disagreeing with me, accusing me of “body shaming” Ms. Dempsey, as in reverse discrimination. I replied, arguing my point and taking umbrage at his suggestion, which I still consider to be off the mark. But in his second comment, Mr. Kern expresses an idea that has led me to amend this original section of the article. He writes…

My interpretation was that the mother had such issues with body image that she placed them on her daughters, whether they were deserved or not.

Ah, yes. So now the physicality of Ms. Dempsey works. The character of Carmen sees Ana, her daughter, as fat and harps on her to lose weight, while in truth Ana’s body is lovely as it is. I thank Mr. Kern for commenting and for our back and forth discussion as he has opened my eyes to a possibility I had not seen before. In the moment, sitting in the audience, I was taken aback by the discrepancy with Ana being called fat and Ms. Dempsey’s lovely physique, so I came to my original conclusion—this does not work. I hadn’t considered that Mama Carmen may have her own issues and baggage that make her “see” her daughter as fat when she is clearly not. So thank you, Mr. Kern! Your perspective has provided me with new insights, and I appreciate your willingness to converse frankly, especially when the issue is emotionally charged.

In regard to Dempsey’s acting, she delivers her lines overtly, with a “giving a speech-like quality. Ana’s emotions are suggested by pitch and volume rather than sincerely felt, “lived,” then shared. When Araceli inhabits her character so naturally, Dempsey’s performance jars in contrast, though she does succeed in portraying Ana as an opinionated girl who’s ready to break the bonds of her current life and head to New York City and attend college—free to become the self-confident, learned, independently-minded young woman she’s determined to be.

 

Santana Dempsey

Santana Dempsey

 

 

Photo_3

 

The subject of undocumented workers and the fear of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) permeates everything in Real Women Have Curves. Four of the five women have secured, finally, their green cards. They are able, finally, to stop living in fear, in survival mode and step into quality-of-life mode. The emotional, physical and mental stress, year in and year out, of feeling trapped and cornered with no way out—this is successfully illustrated, palpable, almost tangible, and for the older woman sitting next to me, perhaps too close to home. She had a hard time laughing out loud. But for the majority of the audience that was primarily Latino, that wasn’t the case; maybe laughing at the situation and laughing with these characters are a momentary prescription and release.

 

Playwright Josefina López

Playwright Josefina López

 

I am far from fluent in Spanish, but I was able to catch most of Araceli’s asides, which are delivered in Carmen’s native tongue. Araceli’s performance is a gem and Real Women with Curves has lots of laughs, several belly laugh-moments, and a strong ending with great music, costumes and dancing. The story is universal (women and their body image issues) and specific—a Latino story for all of us. We need to listen attentively, thoughtfully, with open hearts and minds; exercising our empathetic abilities, finding places of understanding, and connecting with one another whatever our color, culture, race, religion,…or shape!

As women, and perhaps for men too, Real Women Have Curves reminds us that we would be well served to embrace our bodies, big and small, large and shapely, stick and thin. Stop obsessing, start embracing. And keep the laughter coming.

 

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Real Women Have Curves
Through Sunday, Oct. 4th, times vary
Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena 91101
Tickets: $37-$77
Purchase online here or call 1.626.356.7529
For more info, visit PasadenaPlayhouse.org

 

Photo_1

All production photos by Philicia Endelman

 

 

 




5 Responses for “Real Women Have Curves”

  1. Adam says:

    “As women, and perhaps for men too, Real Women Have Curves reminds us that we would be well served to embrace our bodies, big and small, large and shapely, stick and thin.” so thin people can’t have body issues? They can’t have overbearing mothers forcing their own body image issues onto them? Why in a play about embracing our bodies, do you feel compelled to shame an actress for her body? Nowhere does it say that her character has to be heavy – just because America Ferrera had more rolls, cellulite and flab as you put it, is no indication that this version of the character is the same. Yes, you say Dempsey’s body is lovely, but why is it not good enough for this role? As for her acting, she’s playing a teenager, just out of college, working with women twice her age. One of the things teens do is to lecture their elders as to why they’re wrong. In any case, I think your review rushes to judgement on ideas I don’t think you’ve clearly thought through, otherwise, you wouldn’t be body shaming someone because of how you think they should look.

  2. Kat Ward says:

    Thank you, Adam, for sharing your point of view. I sincerely appreciate it.

    I’m not sure how the review shames Ms. Dempsey. I relate how the character Carmen, the mother in the play, repeatedly tells her daughter, the character named Ana, that she’s fat (her word) and needs to lose weight, and I state that since the actress playing said daughter is not fat, I—as an audience member—had a hard time suspending belief and buying into the mother’s harangue. My comments were not shaming Ms. Dempsey; I was commenting on an aspect of the play that did not ring true—“for me,” I wrote.

    And, the review does not say the character Ana should not lecture her elders, but that I was not pulled in and convinced by Ms. Dempsey’s performance. To me, her performance—not the words being spoken, but her delivery—was not convincing. “To me,” I wrote.

    I also wrote that I enjoyed the play and several of the performances, laughed a lot, believe the play is important on many levels, and I recommend that people go see it for themselves.

    A review is a subjective piece of writing and my review of Real Women Have Curves is not a judgment, it’s my opinion. I wrote about my immediate reactions as I sat in the audience and I wrote about the opinions I developed after further reflection. I considered and chose my words carefully, and I wrote honestly.

  3. Adam says:

    Hello, Kat,

    My opinion, even if you are trying to complement her, when you say that the play doesn’t ring true because of the actresses body, that’s a form of body shaming, whether you intended it or not. Suspension of Disbelief or not, the aspect not ringing true to you doesn’t mean it’s not something that couldn’t happen, and while we’re both entitled to our own opinions, and I respect your right to yours, I still feel that if you believed that the play’s message of body tolerance were important, then the actress’ weight wouldn’t be an issue. My interpretation was that the mother had such issues with body image that she placed them on her daughters, whether they were deserved or not.

    Also, just to clear up regarding the actual performance, I was not saying anything about the words her character was using, but that the usage of lecturing as delivery was something that many teenagers use as a tactic, and that I thought it was well used by Dempsey. But to each their own on that topic.

    I understand a review is subjective, and this is not the end of the world, but I just find it sad that today, in 2015 we still are subjecting our thoughts on what we think others bodies should look like onto each other – you had trouble believing the mother’s character because of the daughter’s size – that is not a flaw of the daughter or the actress playing her, that is a piece of the mother’s character development that the production may not have answered – which is also not a statement about the actress’ playing the mother’s ability, but literally a question the play itself has not answered.

    Again, just my opinions in response. I appreciate the chance to argue my perspective and your openness to receive that perspective .

  4. Kat Ward says:

    Hi, Adam: “My interpretation was that the mother had such issues with body image that she placed them on her daughters, whether they were deserved or not.” I will admit that I did not consider this, I did not delve that deeply into the mother’s motives and/or baggage. I think you make a good point with this and though I did—in the moment while sitting in the audience—feel the discrepancy between what Carmen calls Ana and how “Ana” looks physically, I will concede that you’ve made your argument on this singular point and I have amended that particular section of my review. Thank you for partaking in this discussion. I greatly appreciate it.

  5. adam says:

    Likewise, Kat. I appreciate your consideration and willingness to have this conversation. All best!

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