Two Latino (or maybe it’s Hispanic) strangers discover common ground can shift in ‘Fade’
Review: “Fade” by Tanya Saracho, directed by Sandra Marquez at Victory Gardens Theater, co-produced by Teatro Vista, through Dec. 23. ★★★★
By Lawrence B. Johnson
Up to a point, I was quite charmed by Tanya Saracho’s play “Fade,” about two Latinos in different circumstances whose lives intersect at a television production company. I was engaged and delighted by what was spinning out as an edgy comedy in this co-production by Victory Gardens Theater and Teatro Vista – until events took a sharp turn. And then I was seriously impressed. Shaken, actually.
Lucia, born in Mexico but essentially a Chicagoan, has written one novel. So far as she’s concerned, she’s a novelist. But first novels rarely pay the bills, so Lucia (played by Sari Sanchez) has scored a job in Hollywood writing for a TV drama series. This, however, is a game she knows nothing about, and when we meet her on Day 1, it’s already not going well.
Into her office walks Abel (that’s Ah-BEL), the janitor, or custodian if you like. Lucia addresses the swarthy Abel (Eddie Martinez) in Spanish. At first, he doesn’t reply at all; when he does speak, it’s English – to ask this complete stranger why, here in the U.S. of A., she would talk to him in Spanish.
Well, she says, you look…I mean, you are Hispanic, aren’t you? Or do you prefer Latino? When they’ve wrestled with that bit of semantics for a while, Abel sets this annoying woman straight: He’s an American, born here. His grandparents were Mexican, but he’s an American. And sure, he speaks Spanish, too. They wrangle over what it means to be Latino in America, and distinctions between the Latino working and leisured classes. This is not a good beginning, Lucia admits. She proposes a do-over, and they’re soon pals.
Maybe not pals, exactly. More like distressed, flailing writer and one-man support group. The more closely one observes, the less equal the give-and-take between Lucia and Abel becomes. While “Fade” may seem to be about Lucia’s struggle to break through the wall of male dominance and conspicuous racism around the writers’ table, we’re increasingly drawn to Martinez’s portrayal of Abel as a man who knows himself, a stand-up guy who has seen his share of grief and yet still musters compassion for the plight of this aspiring woman.
Oddly enough, the fundamentally skewed relationship reflects all the more credit on Sanchez’s energized, agonizing and very funny turn as Lucia. Who wouldn’t feel for this exasperated soul. She wants to be part of the writing team, to contribute, to figure out a way in. But she’s little more than her boss’s gofer – marked as a Latina whose facility in Spanish can help solve a problem with the guy’s housekeeper.
Every time Lucia slides into the dumps, Abel is there to haul her back up; and when at last something really great comes her way, the guy with the mop and bucket is raising his arms in celebration. Martinez brings a teddy bear’s own warmth to this splendid character. Ah, there’s a word: character. Abel’s remarkable story of his own past, and his ownership of it, shows us a man’s man in the best sense.
It’s not that Lucia doesn’t reciprocate, or at least intend to. She will help Abel write a personal bio for his application for the post of captain of the custodial crew. He would still be a janitor – but captain, man. You know? He was a Marine. It’s there in a big tattoo on his arm: Semper Fi. And a fireman, too. Good stuff for a resumé, Lucia tells him. No doubt. She can put it all together for him.
Then Lucia’s elusive break finally comes. She gets that foot in the door. Her boss loves her latest idea for an episode. Sanchez conveys Lucia’s over-the-moon happiness with glowing – no, make that sparkling — conviction. You can’t help getting caught up in her exhilaration. And Abel is right there, cheering with her. Turns out a couple of details from his own life have provided the spark for her narrative, but he’s cool with that. With what she’s told him.
Funny how one little word can speak volumes about a situation, about a person, about the real deal. Playwright Saracho picked a beaut to show us where all this is headed. It’s a throwaway that Sanchez tosses like the flick of a ponytail. Late in the play, when things are really rolling for Lucia, she closes a phone conversation with her boss with an easy, “Ciao.”
It’s neither Spanish nor English. It’s Italian, but with a singular Hollywood accent that smacks of code: I’m in the club now. Moving up. Moving on. And Semper Fi? Ah, right, the Latino janitor.
- Performance location, dates and times: Details at TheatreInChicago.com