Fade by Tanyo Saracho at the Kitchen Theatre through Feb 20 (kitchentheatre.org)
Note: The Kitchen Theatre is also offering a virtual stream of the play through Feb 20!
Tanyo Saracho’s Fade is in one sense a classic Hollywood fable: a talented writer/artist gets sucked into the meat grinder fame of show biz—cue Clifford Odets and Nathaniel West.
The twist is while white men still dominate Hollywood’s studios, today’s L.A. is a Latinx town, and this is the world of her play: Lucia, a newbie television scripter, fresh off her debut novel is hired to add diversity (authenticity, spice, or optics?) to a rote TV cop drama featuring a Latina lead of undefined ethnicity.
While this provides the playwright the opportunity to explore the vicissitudes of a woman of color surviving a sea of white male entitlement, Saracho has a wider set of targets.
Lucia soon drifts into a friendship with Abel, the late-night janitor working the corridor of her new office. Not only does he become an ear for her tales of writer room woes, he provides material, knowledge of the ‘mean streets’ of LA and the lives of working-class Angelenos. It’s this class difference Saracho hones in on, charting the compromises Lucia faces to “make it.”
Short, sharply observed scenes turn on a delightful ongoing comedy of missed connections and wrong assumptions. Lucia grew up in Mexico with maids, later landed in Chicago. She nervously spouts torrents of words in both English and Spanish; she is mercurial and somewhat chameleonic, she loves to take on different roles (including a delish send-up of telenova, wrapped in a serape) in front of this phlegmatic man.
Abel is third-generation Mexican-American, and all we learn at first is that he has a daughter. He suspects Lucia of being a bit of a princess, a fresa in the vernacular. His gradual lowering of his walls provides the emotional heft of the play as he becomes Lucia’s comrade in arms.
Within a short space, Saracho manages to cover a lot of ground over issues of representation as well as the way marginalized communities get set against one another. Yet this space (a two-character, one set comedy) is also claustrophobic and schematic, and the eventual outcome feels forced.
The Kitchen Theatre delivers a superb production with strong, precisely observed performances by Gina Fonseca as Lucia and Orlando Arriaga as Abel. Director Armando Rivera keeps the pace alive, and is especially adroit at accentuating the varying rhythms of the scenes.
Fonseca is all kinetic spin and sparkling verbosity as Lucia, with a deft way of catching herself in the middle of a thought, of a posture, and flipping to a different dynamic. As the play progresses, a more vulnerable woman peeks out, keeping us engaged.
Gravity and stillness characterize Arriaga’s work, in a deeply inhabited performance as Abel. A striking cautiousness gives way to Abel unloading a painfully grueling story of his past and present, centered on his daughter, a spellbinding moment of theater.
Scenic and costume designer Rodrigo Hernandez Martinez offers a cubic prison of metal edges, glass and lucite covered in modernist grey felts, subtly lit by Daisy Long. Martinez’s costumes neatly portray Lucia’s upward progress, while sound designer Johnathan Taylor’s music lands us square in the characters’ world. All three designers contribute to a blistering final moment.