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Curves Ahead

Teatro Visión presents stage version of 'Real Women Have Curves' in Spanish and English

By Marianne Messina

THE SUNDANCE award-winning film Real Women Have Curves (2002) scored big box-office numbers as a coming-of-age film about its Hispanic protagonist, Ana, with a cute, high school romance and an upbeat message encouraging large women to maintain positive body images.

The play, written by Josefina López (and first performed in San Francisco in 1990) is a different animal. Toss out the doe-eyed boyfriend, the father, the family home and the streets of L.A. and zoom in on five immigrant women cranking out dresses in a sweatshop. Claustrophobic yet?

Add the sense of holing up in this shuttered sauna under the eternal dread of a visit from INS officials, and you have the ethos of both Lopez's original play and her actual early life. Though López's parents were legal, paperwork snafus held up her own legal status through her high school years, and her resulting political outrage (given only token lines in the film) became the core of the play.

In the play, only one of the five women is illegal. "But still there's this camaraderie," says Teatro Visión's artistic director, Elisa Marina Gonzalez. She's referring to the fact that the women endure horrendous conditions to cover for their co-worker. "And then there's also this memory of not having papers, of being undocumented—and how the immigration officer scoops everybody up and sorts you out later."

For Teatro Visión's production of Real Women Have Curves, director Amy Gonzalez (who knew Lopez as a girl and saw that first 1990 production) invested a lot of research in her reconstruction of a dress factory and all its machine-driven oppression. The set will include industrial sewing machines, the huge overlocking machine that secures seams (thanks to American Musical Theatre of San Jose) and a facsimile of the merciless steam iron.

"Putting up a play is already a huge piece of work, you know?" says Elisa Gonzalez. "And then on top of that, it's trying to find a cast that's fully bilingual, because a lot of Chicanos are not fully bilingual. And the time of translation, the time of testing the translation."

The company is presenting both English and Spanish versions of the play. Teatro Visión first tried mounting productions in two languages with Boxcar last spring. The company developed a Spanish-speaking audience base by enlisting community immigrant organizations to help develop the production. "People were involved very deeply in the artistic process from hearing drafts of the script, giving us feedback, on the stories, the characters and the language," Gonzalez says. "So they were participating, contributing, learning about theater, and then when the show went up, they felt such an ownership."

The strategy was so successful that the Spanish shows were better attended than the English ones. Committed to the bilingual idea, Teatro Visión is still learning about the translation process. With Real Women, the company came up against the issue of translating not just language but culture. "There was an existing translation, but it was very stiff," Gonzalez says. "It got sent to somebody that is a professional court translator or something." Gonzalez explains that the problem with formal translations is that they're derived from Castilian Spanish. "You couldn't tell that the women were Mexican." When Teatro Visión enlisted translator Vivis Columbetti, it realized that a workable translation would not be simply a matter of changing a word here or there; it required starting from scratch.

In its Spanish outreach, Teatro Visión echoes the work that Josefina López carries on as she teaches writing to Latinos in L.A. Both are bringing the immigrant population into the process of relevant storytelling. "It's part of our values, our ethics, our mission to try and offer something to the immigrant community," says Gonzalez. "And we just had to get up and start doing it."

Real Women Have Curves plays Thursday and Saturday at 8pm in English and Thursday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm in Spanish, Oct. 7-31, at the Mexican Heritage Plaza Theater, 1700 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose. Tickets are $12-$17. (408272.9926)

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From the October 6-12, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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