Victory Gardens (Upstairs)

Fade

At the Victory Gardens Theater

Co–production with Teatro Vista

By Dan Zeff

Chicago—“Fade” is a two-hander about Lucia, an upper class Mexican-born writer trying to break into television writing in Los Angeles, and Abel, a Mexican-American janitor who cleans her office after working Hours. The combination of the two characters opens up a pair of thematic lines for the play. “Fade” can be a standard romantic comedy about two wildly different people who eventually come together as a couple. It can also shine as a satiric examination of ethnic stereotypes in America, within the Hispanic community and between the Hispanic and Anglo worlds.

Playwright Tanya Saracho hints at the romantic theme in one scene but wisely emphasizes her commentary about ethnic attitudes in America. The play falters in concluding with an indictment of the brutal striving for success in TV writing that isn’t persuasive and ends the story on an abruptly sour note.

“Fade” runs about 95 minutes without an intermission. The play is a co-production between Victory Gardens and Teatro Vista, which provides both performers in the show and the director.

We meet both characters after working hours in a Los Angeles film studio office. Lucia is a high strung Mexican-born writer brought across the border to write episodes for a popular TV detective series with a Latina leading lady. In contrast Abel is cool and calm as the janitor. His roots lie in Mexico but his birthplace in California. He is bemused by a white world who doesn’t know the difference between Hispanic and Latino, but he goes with the flow.

Photo Credit: Liz Lauren

After an awkward beginning, the two get chummy, illuminating issues of culture, race, and class in their conversation as they gradually build a friendship. Lucia is insecure, feeling alienated from the California scene and convinced her bosses are employing her as a “diversity hire.” Abel comes back with “Mostly I know people who don’t get jobs because they are Mexican.”

Lucia is self dramatizing and ambitious, with an innocent quality beneath her profanity-soaked speech. Abel is laid back, preferring to make no waves. He is also eventually the more interesting of the two characters, with his tattoos and a prison record and a complicated domestic situation.

There are actually additional characters in the play, but they are off stage on the other end of phone calls with Lucia, a common playwriting device to expand the narrative base of a play without putting additional live characters on stage.

The most successful element in “Fade” (a weak title I didn’t quite understand) is the humorous byplay between Lucia and Abel, especially the wry comments about being Hispanic in a non Hispanic world. In the final scenes, when the melodramatic temperature gets turned up, the story loses its moorings in revelations about Lucia’s character I didn’t buy whatsoever.

Saracho’s play thus is only partially successful, but the performances and directing go the limit in maximizing the script’s virtues, which reside in its humor and wry satire. Sari Sanchez operates full-tilt as Lucia. who starts out kind of cute in a ditzy way but grows progressively less likable, losing much credibility by the end of the show. But that’s a problem with the script and not Sanchez’s all-out performance. Eddie Martinez’s Abel recognizes that he lives in a world where it doesn’t pay to make waves and he chooses to make the best of a difficult life, which involves caring for his infant child. He’s only a night janitor but he endures with a clear eye.

                       Photo Credit: Liz Lauren

The play has very little action beyond Abel doing his vacuuming, but the production is never static thanks to the high energy of the dialogue. Director Sandra Marquez works well with her two actors, keeping the contrasts between the characters clearly etched. Regina Garcia’s set fits realistically in one corner of the Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen studio theater. Christine Pascual designed the costumes, Jesse Klug the atmospheric  lighting, and Victoria DeIorio the sound. The prop design by Mealah Heidenreich and Alec Long recreates in realistic detail the modern office enclosed by a hallway and picture windows.

“Fade” is a small play and only about one year old, so presumably Saracho is still open to burnishing her script. In other productions the playing time has been listed as any from 90 to 100 minutes long, suggesting that some of the show’s movable parts have been adjusted. The strengths of the play are the rapport between Lucia and Abel and the sharp-eyed but not vitriolic exploration of ethnic conflicts. Find a more plausible ending and “Fade” should be just fine.

The show gets a rating of 3 stars.

“Fade” runs through December 23 at the Victory Gardens Theatre, 2433 North Lincoln Avenue. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15 to $56. Call 773 871 3000 or visit www.victoryhgardens.org.

Contact Dan at:ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com                         November  2017

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