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Review: Comedy at Costa Mesa Playhouse touches on plight of undocumented women

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Actors Angela Apodaca, Jessica Delgado, Angela Moore, Tiffany McQuay and Anatalia Vallez perform in the Costa Mesa Playhouse production of “Real Women Have Curves.”
(Photo by Michael Serna)

Real women, indeed, have curves, a fact proudly displayed by a quintet of Latina ladies in the latest production of the Costa Mesa Playhouse.

Playwright Josefina Lopez’s “Real Women Have Curves,” updated from its original 1990 version, is hardly a well-made play — it’s slow going in the first act and soapbox time in the second — but director Sara Guerrero has assembled a fiercely energetic cast to depict the immigrant ladies who strive for little compensation in a Los Angeles dress-making factory.

The message of the play’s title is delivered late in the production when all five strip down to their skivvies to exhibit their mostly plus-size physiques. The overarching theme, however, is the plight of undocumented women (though only the employer now falls into that category) trying to hold on long enough to grab the brass ring in their adopted homeland.

Amid all the aimless chatter that pervades the show’s first hour, the action reveals that this dress shop is hanging on by a thread and an uncertain future awaits. Gossip is supposedly prohibited, but little else transpires before intermission. Once the ladies return for the second segment, Lopez’s plot tightens and her characters assume their unique identities.

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The play might be better served as a long one-act, with some of the earlier chaff excised. Riding herd on this motley crew is the boss lady Estela (Tiffany McQuay), who strives vainly to keep order and raise productivity. McQuay turns in a solid performance as a likable woman uncomfortable at dispensing discipline.

Enacting the shop’s rebellious junior worker is Aurora Hale (who shares the role with Anatalia Vallez). In the show’s best performance, Hale revels in her character’s incompetence by constantly upsetting her comrades’ plans. Carmen (Angela Moore) is more grounded as the elder stateswoman, and mother of proprietor Estela, who fears a ninth pregnancy in her 50s. Pancha (Jessica Delgado), who most exemplifies the play’s title, scores as the constant complainer threatening to upset the operation.

Finally, there is Rosali (Angela Apodaca), a diminutive lass who seems out of place with the other well-endowed workers until her serious eating disorder is revealed. Apodaca provides a gentle contrast to the other over-the-top employees.

The show’s setting, a ramshackle room in L.A.’s low-rent district, is beautifully designed by Ryan Linhardt. Original music by Moses Vazquez lends authenticity to the production, as does the low-key lighting plot of Marissa Alejandra Diaz.

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“Real Women Have Curves” may require some acclimation time, but the end result compensates with style.

IF YOU GO

What: “Real Women Have Curves”

Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct.1

Cost: $18 to $22

Call: (949) 650-5269

TOM TITUS reviews local theater.

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