OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic
For a brief time in Tanya Saracho’s “Fade,” currently playing at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre, the lines between class and status fade as Mexican-born script writer Lucia (Annie Dow) and American-born Chicano custodian Abel (Eddie Martinez) seem to drop their guards and allow their “similarities” to overshadow their “differences.” Abel “forgives” Lucia for her assumptions when he first walks into her office that he does not speak English and begins to trust Lucia. That trust is ultimately misplaced and the dramatic arc of Ms. Saracho’s play deals with the rise (including the hint at a romantic interest) and decline of the relationship between two persons who, although they seem to have much in common, are worlds apart.
When Lucia confesses to Abel she really knows little about writing for television (her writing experience is one published novel), she shares the storyline and asks Abel for some suggestions on how to develop the lead male character. Abel shares his life story with Lucia, including details about his ex-wife, their daughter Melita, and the “roughest six months of my life were when I was locked up. When I was Incarcerated” protecting my daughter. There is no mystery what will happen after Abel shares his story – and this is the problem with Ms. Saracho’s script. Lucia uses the story practically verbatim in her script and the audience knows that she will. All suspense literally “fades” (dies in street language).
Lucia’s creds skyrocket after she submits the script to her boss John. John no longer considers Lucia the in-house translator to communicate with his Latina maid. His new hire is now respected and even given the responsibility to take over her colleague Gary’s work – a situation that results in her colleague being fired. As Lucia ascends, she becomes more distant. Abel eventually discovers that Lucia has used his story and knows he has been betrayed. The play’s ending again is no surprise and does not warrant the unusual blackout and completely different part of the set. One of several odd choices in Jerry Ruiz’s staging and Ms. Saracho’s script. Why, for example, the multitude of very short scenes? Was this an attempt to simulate writing for television?
Annie Dow and Eddie Martinez work diligently to embolden Ms. Saracho’s characters. Mr. Martinez brings far more depth to his character Abel than Ms. Dow brings to her character Lucia. The actor gives Lucia one tonal range throughout and seems to whine no matter what the circumstance. But it is not the actors’ obvious craft that in in question here. Although “Fade” raises some enduring and rich questions about classism, sexism, racism, and prejudice, the play does not offer any new perspectives on these issues nor does it address them with any depth of understanding or suspense. The audience knows what will happen within five minutes of the beginning of the action.
The set design by Mariana Sanchez is functional and allows the audience to observe the activity of both actors even when they are not interacting. Carisa Kelly’s costumes are, as they should be, functional and Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting is unobtrusive and serves the action of the play quite successfully.
Tanya Saracho uses Spanish throughout the play – Spanish not understood by most the audience. This seems to support the classism the playwright ostensibly abhors and makes it uncomfortable when one cannot appreciate the humor in the writing. Another odd choice.
The cast of “Fade” features Annie Dow and Eddie Martinez.
“Fade” features set design by Mariana Sanchez, costume design by Carisa Kelly, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, sound design by M.L. Dogg, and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting. Production photos by James Leynse.
Primary Stage’s “Fade” runs at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Sunday March 5, 2017 on the following schedule: Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Added performances: February 11 at 2:00 p.m., March 1 at 2:00 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://primarystages.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.