Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

The play Real Women Have Curves examines the Latina immigrant experience in the United States, and Indio’s Desert Theatreworks is taking on the play—which debuted in 1990 and was later made into a critically acclaimed movie—as its first-ever bilingual production.

Leslye Martinez, the assistant director of Real Women Have Curves, said during a recent phone interview that she pitched the play to Desert Theatreworks artistic director Lance Phillips-Martinez.

“I said, ‘Hey, it would be really cool if we could do this play; I think we have the people for it here in the community, and I think we have some amazing Latina women in this theater who could represent these women,’” Martinez said. “A week later, he came up to me and said, ‘Hey, so guess what the last show of this season is?’ He told me we were doing Real Women Have Curves.

“It was a really great moment for me, because I feel like it’s the first time Latina women are being represented on this stage in this theater company. It’s a huge reflection of our community as a whole for the people who come to watch our productions. I am a Mexican woman, so I felt it was something we needed here.”

Martinez’s passion for the play, written by Josefina López, was palpable as she spoke.

“I first read this play when I was in college,” Martinez said. “I was involved in the Latina/o Play Project at the University of California, Riverside, and I personally love it, because it represents all kinds of women, and it has feminism and community as themes—and they have their bickering moments where they get a little competitive. It’s very typical for women to be this way around each other, but I feel that there’s so much truth within this play in terms of political things going on. There’s the whole green-card situation that happens, which is very reflective of how I grew up.

“I feel very attached to this production, because I immigrated here when I was 5 years old. It holds a lot of significant meaning to me and in my life.”

Martinez said the show will be easy to follow, even for those who don’t speak both English and Spanish.

“We’re having the ladies here say everything that we’re saying in Spanish (also) in English,” she said. “They are also acting it out in a way that’s more understanding in an audience perspective. If we’re referring to something on our bodies, we accentuate that part of our body. We’ll make sure that whoever is viewing this production really understands what’s going on.”

Selene Canchola is playing the role of Estela Garcia. She said she was immediately interested after seeing a post Martinez put up about the play.

“I’ve always been a plus-sized lady, so when I read the title, I was immediately drawn to it,” Canchola said. “So far, it’s been kind of hectic because of the scheduling, but it’s been a wonderful opportunity, and I consider myself lucky to play Estela Garcia in this production.”

There are some scenes that involve revealing clothing and semi-nudity—and Canchola said those scenes don’t bother her at all.

“I’ve worked really hard to get to the body type I have now,” Canchola said with a laugh. “I used to be 100 pounds heavier than my current size. I’m all about body positivity and owning the skin you’re in. You only have one body.

“There’s a scene that’s heartwarming for me, because when I was in junior high school and high school, being in the locker room and being a bigger girl was so uncomfortable, seeing these skinny peers of mine getting ready for physical-education class. In this situation, the women in the play reflect that it’s OK to have cellulite; it’s OK to have stretch marks; and it’s OK to have scars. That’s what makes us beautiful and makes the audience feel vulnerable with us in that moment.”

After moving from the Arthur Newman Theatre at the Joslyn Center in Palm Desert to the Indio Performing Arts Center in 2017, Desert Theatreworks has tried to take on a more diverse range of productions—and Martinez said she hopes Real Women Have Curves is a sign that even more diverse shows are on the way.

“I think this production is a great start,” Martinez said. “Hopefully this is the catalyst for a very diverse season.”

Real Women Have Curves will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, from Friday, May 10, through Sunday, May 19, at the Indio Performing Arts Center in Indio, 45175 Fargo St. Tickets are $16 to $28. For tickets or more information, call 760-980-1455, or visit

Published in Theater and Dance

Josefina Lopez has lived an incredible life—and that life has inspired her acclaimed work as a playwright and now as a novelist.

She’ll be appearing at Café Aroma as part of the Fourth Annual Idyllwild Authors Series at 3 p.m., Sunday, July 13.

Lopez is best known as the award-winning writer of Real Women Have Curves, a play which went on to be adapted into a film. Her personal story, in some ways, is one of living the American dream: Lopez was 5 years old when she came to the United States with her family from Mexico. She grew up in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, was part of the first graduating class of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.

During a recent phone interview, Lopez discussed the shock she felt when she learned she was undocumented.

“I didn’t know I was undocumented until I was about 10 or 11,” Lopez said. “My father came to the country as part of a work program and decided to stay. Eventually, he brought my mother, and then we all came along. I grew up undocumented, so I grew up very afraid of being deported and separated from my family. Eventually, when I was 18, I got legal residency through the amnesty program. Even now as a grown woman, I realize that being undocumented was very painful.”

She said her backstory leads her to write about immigration. Her first novel, Hungry Woman in Paris, was released in 2009. The story focuses on a journalist, activist and bride to be named Canela who before the age of 30 finds herself unhappy. She uses a ticket intended for her honeymoon to escape Los Angeles for Paris, where she enrolls in a prestigious culinary institute and rediscovers her passion for life.

The story is somewhat autobiographical, she said. Lopez and her French-American husband spent time living in Paris after she became unhappy with being a Hollywood writer. After giving birth to her second child, she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu, in part to give her writing a direction.

“I was there as an older woman, so I feel I wrote the novel for myself,” Lopez said. “It was the kind of novel I wish I would have read when I was 20 because of the pressure of being a Latina and a woman. … I wrote the story affirming to women: ‘You know what? It’s OK if you don’t ever want to get married.’ I feel that I didn’t have permission to do that, because I grew up in a home where you have to be married in order to be part of a family.”

When she looks back on Real Women Have Curves, she said she’s still surprised by the success she achieved after the play was published in 1996. The film version was released in 2002.

“When the play opened and it had success, I was really surprised,” Lopez said. “… I was so amazed by how many men and how many people who weren’t Latino responded and connected to it. I’m very happy that it’s a universal message.”

While Lopez is a successful playwright and author, she’s also a dedicated activist on the subjects of Chicago theater, women’s history, immigration and various other issues. She said her passions have a common thread.

“I realize now that what I’m fighting for is for all people to realize they were born free,” Lopez said. “That includes not just civically free, but in their mind and in their spirit.

“No matter what I do, that’s what I’m trying to show people. We are born free, and we are more powerful than we think we are. Some of us settle for being comfortable, but others, we fight for being free, being big, being grand and getting out of our comfort zone. I think every fight is the fight between love and fear. When you’re afraid, you seek comfort, shelter and survival. I just want all people to know they are born free and that they are powerful.”

Josefina Lopez will appear as part of the Fourth Annual Idyllwild Authors Series at 3 p.m., Sunday, July 13, at Café Aroma, 54750 N Circle Drive, in Idyllwild. Admission is free. For more information, visit

Published in Literature