Chicago Theatre Review
Art Imitating Life
Fade – Teatro Vista and Victory Gardens
Tanya Saracho, cofounder of Teatro Luna and a Victory Gardens ensemble playwright, maintains that her 2013 play isn’t about her own life. This, despite the fact that the prolific playwright’s also a writer for television shows, like “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Girls” and “Looking.” So it’s coincidental that Lucia, one of the play’s two characters, has so much in common with Ms. Saracho. Lucia is a first-year television writer, also transplanted from Chicago to sunny California, who suddenly realizes that she’s out of her league.
Lucia is a young, educated, upper Middle-class, Mexican-born go-getter, with one published novel to her credit. Unschooled in actual TV production, she accepts a lucrative job in Hollywood, simply to pay the bills. She’s been hired to write for a gritty, LA-based crime drama that features a Latina police detective. At first flattered to be handpicked for this job, but confused as to the motive, Lucia eventually figures out that she’s simply filling a quota. From the condescending way the Bigwigs dismiss her ideas, or the way they continually ask her to perform menial tasks, like getting coffee, making copies or translating directives to her boss’ Mexican maid, Lucia quickly ascertains that she’s just a diversity hire. And, although Lucia is collecting a healthy paycheck, she’s frustrated and angry about this demeaning position.
Electing to set up her office late one night, Lucia meets Abel. He’s a tough, but compassionate hard-working night custodian, who comes to Lucia’s aid when her shelf of knickknacks comes tumbling down. Without any friends in California, they strike up a series of late-hour conversations. Lucia unloads her entire life on this poor guy, offering far too much information, until one night she decides to ask Abel about himself. The two Latinex then share their heritage, realizing they’re clearly from very different classes and social circles. Although Abel prefers speaking English instead of Spanish because, as he says, “we’re in America,” he calls Lucia “Fresa,” which is a slang Mexican term for Preppy.
Today, the absence of females and minorities in TV, film and theatre has become a hot topic. But while the public is finally beginning to see more diversity in shows, like this one, the everyday, behind-the-scenes employees still receive too little exposure. While Ms. Saracho’s play explores a growing presence of heterogeneity in certain fields (Lucia says she was hired because she’s Latina; Abel says he has trouble even being considered for jobs, for the very same reason), she’s got other axes to grind.
The playwright has penned this 100-minute one-act to also examine cultural and class differences. The very title of Saracho’s play, at first simply referring to a cinematic direction, also implies that under pressure in Hollywood the color of person’s skin, as well as his ethnicity, also begins to fade in the hot California sun. Abel and Lucia debate whether speaking Spanish helps maintain their heritage. They argue about using the term “Hispanic,” versus “Latino/Latina,” or even the more contemporary, “Latinex.”
Directed by Sandra Marquez, this entertaining and eyeopening production sometimes feels a little too contrived. At one point in the final scenes the audience can sense where this story’s headed, and it’s just a matter of getting there. Only the final denouement provides any surprise, but the journey in arriving there captivates. Regina Garcia’s stylish, state-of-the-art scenic design works, except when a few elements of set dressing begin to accidentally break. But the subtle transformation in the final scene is fast and stunning. Christine Pascual has designed costumes that supply additional details to each character. Her layered look for Lucia provides a basic wardrobe that the actress can change onstage, simply with the addition or deletion of a cardigan and jacket. Abel’s uniform gets an overhaul as his character takes a turn, near the end of the play.
Both actors sharing the stage are terrific. Sari Sanchez plays Lucia, the tenacious, self-doubting writer who believes she’s sold out for her new job. Ms. Sanchez is confident and commanding, perhaps a little overly dramatic, but easily commanding the bulk of the dialogue in this fast-paced production. She creates an eager young woman almost ready to throw in the towel, until she finds unexpected friendship with the night janitor. Eddie Martinez, who’s made a career of playing this role all over the country, is funny and warm as a very humane Abel. Honesty and a firm understanding of what makes this blue collar worker tick, as well as what ticks him off, allows Martinez to subtly reveal all of Abel’s colors and layers. By the end of this play, we come to thoroughly like and understand this man. His reaction to Lucia’s manipulations is controlled and totally believable; and, just like that, he becomes the story’s unlikely protagonist.
While playwright Tanya Saracho denies that her play is autobiographical, there are enough similarities to support that belief. Set in a typical, white male-dominated Hollywood television studio, a young, ambitious Latina finds a job and her own voice, with help of a new, and unlikely friend. It’s a case of art imitating life, with the art winning out.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 4-December 23 coproduced by Teatro Vista and Victory Gardens Theaters at the Biograph, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the theater box office, by calling 773-871-3000 or by going to www.victorygardens.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.