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I can’t remember the last time when two new professional theaters opened at the exact same time here in Metro Detroit, but that’s what happened last week with the debuts of both the Tipping Point Theatre in Northville and the Mah-Dey Theatre of southwest Detroit. But even more interesting is this: Each has a woman as its artistic leader.
Yet except for a shared passion for the art form, there’s little else the two have in common. While one sits in a tony suburb, the other calls home a struggling, working class neighborhood. And whereas one came out of the gate with some of the area’s top thespians, the other serves as a showcase for Hispanic plays and a training ground for unknown and up-and-coming Latino and Latina artists.
So while the two are worlds apart in pretty much every way, both are a welcome addition because of the infectious energy they bring to the creative community.
That’s especially true of the Mah-Dey Theatre that came out of the gate with a warm and nicely staged production of “Real Women Have Curves” by Josefina Lopez.
Set in a small Los Angeles dress factory in 1987, recent high-school graduate Ana Garcia (Ofelia Torres) has dreams of becoming a writer. But for now, she’s working in her 24-year-old sister Estela’s factory (Maria L. Serratos), alongside her mother Carmen (Sandra Morquecho) and a handful of other hard-working, full-figured Mexican-American women who are trying to save the shop from going bankrupt – or closed by the INS for having an illegal in their midst.
Similar to “Steel Magnolias,” “Real Women” offers theatergoers a peek at what women discuss when men aren’t around. It’s funny and it’s frank, and I applaud the five actresses for being comfortable enough with their bodies to proudly strip to their undies when the characters want to compare stretch marks. (The scene stunned many in the audience.)
But that wasn’t enough to lift this eager and often funny production above the “simply satisfactory” level on opening night.
That’s because the actresses – all beautiful, with plenty of talent – hadn’t quite connected with their characters yet; most were still too focused on delivering their lines. So while the foundations were laid, no one was having fun exploring the widths, depths and boundaries of the women they play. (I suspect that will change after a few more rehearsals and performances.)
Co-directors (and producer) Serratos and Andrea Scobie move their characters around the stage quite well, but their overall inexperience is equally evident. The show’s pace often doesn’t reflect the emotional content of the script, and keener eyes would have removed any prop that didn’t exist in 1987 – the most obvious being the bottles of water and vitamin water, the Rubbermade storage tubs and the “Menopause the Musical” mug.
But ultimately what the audience saw on opening night was an eager and entertaining look into the lives of five proud, Latina women, staged by a new company that only wants to celebrate their lives and stories for everyone to see.
And for that alone, they deserved the standing-o they received at the end of the night!
‘Real Women Have Curves’
Mah-Dey Theatre at the Matrix Theatre, 2730 Bagley Ave., Detroit. Fri.-Sun., through Sept. 30. Tickets: $15. For information: 313-887-0403 or http://www.matrixtheatre.org