“Fade” is a play about the bond that develops between a Mexican-born TV writer and a Mexican-American janitor at the TV studio. Its author, Tanya Saracho, is a Mexican-born TV writer/producer who has worked on the TV series “Devious Maids,” “Looking,” and “Girls” and is now co-producer of “How To Get Away with Murder” — as we learn in the full page bio of her, complete with photograph, that’s in the program from Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane, where the two-character play runs through March 5.
In “Fade,” Lucia (Annie Dow), who wrote a first novel that was critically acclaimed, has moved from Chicago to Los Angeles to start a job on a TV series centered around a Latina woman. Lucia knows nobody in town, and she spends all day sitting silently at writers meetings, her white male co-workers treating her with condescension. One of them tells her “you do know you’re the diversity hire, right? [Y]ou’re only here because you’re a Hispanic.” So when Abel (Eddie Martinez) comes into her office to empty her trash, she automatically sees him as an ally, someone with whom to feel solidarity and from whom to seek solace. But she also unintentionally treats him with condescension as well. When they first meet, she speaks to him in Spanish, and is surprised when she learns that he knows English. That doesn’t stop her from exclaiming at one point: “We’re in Trump’s America. We have to be militant about speaking our mother tongue whenever the hell we want.” Abel, who is worried he could lose his job from such a gesture, is skeptical of this fresa (Mexican slang for a superficial youngster from a rich family), but she eventually wins him over – to his ultimate regret.
Click on any photograph by James Leynse to see it enlarged
“Fade” is well acted, and Saracho’s script touches on several worthwhile issues that seem based on her own experience — the distortion in popular culture depictions of the Latino population (and by extension any ethnic minority); the divisions by class and culture within the Latino community; the pressures on an individual toward compromise and corruption in order to make it in mainstream American society.
But by the end of the play, which takes place entirely in Lucia’s bland office, “Fade” feels slighter and more obvious than it could have been. Saracho is quite harsh toward Lucia – she makes her clear stand-in annoying, self-involved and insensitive – and toward the industry in which Lucia works, Saracho’s own industry. But her observations offer little that we haven’t heard before, and, given what’s going on in the country now, it’s frankly hard to muster much outrage about the behind-the-scenes machinations of television. If the TV industry is meant as a metaphor for the country as a whole, it feels an inadequate one. By most accounts, we are living in a second golden age of TV in terms of wider and deeper content, something to which Saracho herself has contributed. At their best, the subjects on TV nowadays hold greater dramatic interest than the subject of TV in this stage play.
Primary Stages at Cherry Lane
Written by Tanya Saracho
Directed by Jerry Ruiz. Set design by Mariana Sanchez, costume design by Carisa Kelly, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, sound design by M.L. Dogg
Running time: 100 minutes, no intermission
“Fade” is set to run through March 5, 2017