The Bedrosian Center’s Policy at the Playhouse initiative was formed last spring to highlight and encourage conversations about governance within the dramatic and artistic outlets in the community. On September 29, the Center traveled to the Pasadena Playhouse to lead a discussion about community, the immigrant experience, and women in the workplace following a production of Real Women Have Curves, by LA playwright Josefina López.
The play is set in a small sewing factory in East Los Angeles. The energetic plot follows the quest of five women as they work to complete a large order of dresses by an ambitious deadline while dealing with oppressive heat, malfunctioning sewing machines, and constant worries about surprise visits from immigration officers, “la migra.” The story centers around Ana, a recent high school graduate who works for her sister Estela, the owner of the shop. In addition to Ana, Estela employs three other women: her mother, Carmen, who repeatedly pressures Ana and Estela to lose weight and find boyfriends; Rosali, a young woman who struggles with body image issues and is determined to reach a size two by using diet pills from China; and Pancha, an older woman who has faced abuse and infertility.
Ana is an aspiring writer who dreams of going to NYU to begin a new life away from home. However, she must wait one year before applying in order to be eligible for financial aid. As a result, she is persuaded to work for Estela. Through Ana’s diary entries and conversations with the other workers, we understand the challenges these women face on a daily basis. The women speak almost constantly about their body weights, causing the audience to reflect upon the societal expectations placed on female appearance. Carmen pressures Estela to find a man; yet when Estela goes on a date with a young man in the neighborhood, she becomes extremely upset after it became clear that he was more interested in her body than her mind and accomplishments. Furthermore, Estela is not a legal resident and voices her fear of deportation. The other women have green cards yet are still on edge whenever they see or hear of an immigration officer outside the factory. Estela is in debt and owes a significant amount of money for the sewing machines she purchased, yet the department store that ordered the dresses refuses to pay until the work is done. Because of her lack of permanent resident status, she feels powerless to stand up for herself and demand her pay.
The final scene features a powerful monologue by Ana, who speaks of all she has learned from the women during her time at the factory:
Perhaps the greatest thing I learned from them is that women are powerful, especially when working together.
Following the show, a panel of community leaders discussed the important themes of gender roles and women in the workforce. USC Professor, Dr. Nicole Esparza described the current landscape of women in management positions and explained the reality that women of color make up a greater percentage of people of color getting degrees, yet make significantly less money than their male counterparts. Furthermore, Dr. Esparza noted that there are more women than men in nonprofit management positions, yet female leaders are not compensated as much and not given credit where it is due. Gloria Molina, a pioneer in Los Angeles politics and the first Latina elected to the California Legislature, spoke from experience and urged female leaders to keep a positive attitude and speak their minds: “Women have to go through so much everyday. We need to be ourselves to break through the barriers. I ran for office against all odds. You must have the confidence to take the challenge and disregard all else that is out there, like images of women in the media and family traditions that pressure women to get married and have babies immediately out of college.” Playwright Josefina López was also part of the conversation and urged women in leadership positions to stand up for their communities. She discussed the double standards faced by working moms and the gender pay inequities faced by female playwrights.
Director Seema Sueko explained that for her, “This play is universal in its specificity. I am not Latina (I’m half Pakistani and half Japanese and I grew up in Hawaii). But the women of this play remind me of the “aunties” I grew up with — my mother’s friends: women who worked hard, laughed hard, and kept their families together. This is a great American play — a classic. It deserves to be in ‘the cannon.'” Real Women Have Curves gives women an important voice by showing a female leader running her own business and surviving in the community.
This play is universal in its specificity. I am not Latina (I’m half Pakistani and half Japanese and I grew up in Hawaii). But the women of this play remind me of the “aunties” I grew up with — my mother’s friends: women who worked hard, laughed hard, and kept their families together. This is a great American play — a classic. It deserves to be in ‘the cannon.’
Image of Josefina López courtesy of her website
Images of the Talback are courtesy of the Pasadena Playhouse, photos by Kristen Hammack, Scenic Design by David F. Weiner