“Fade” to What…?
By Geary Danihy
So you walk into a bakery and you see a cake with a little card next to it that proclaims: “Death by Chocolate.” Sounds good to you, so you buy it, bring it home and cut a slice only to find what’s inside is white cake with vanilla frosting. You might just scratch your head and say “What the…?” This might also be your reaction as you sit watching “Fade” unfold up at TheaterWorks in Hartford. This two-hander by Tanya Saracho, directed by Jerry Ruiz, starts out by offering you one thing and then serves up quite another.
The play opens with Lucia (a demonstrative Elizabeth Ramos) entering her film studio office for the first time. She’s got one novel under her belt but has taken this job to pay the rent, although other staff writers hint that she got the job because she’s the token Hispanic. As she arranges her personal effects on bookshelves, Abel (Eddie Martinez), a janitor, is outside her office vacuuming (something he will do a lot of). The bookshelves collapse, Lucia calls for help, and thus the two “meet cute.”
Lucia immediately sizes up Abel (racially) and speaks Spanish to him. Although Abel initially doesn’t comment, they soon get into a discussion about Lucia’s perceptions and assumptions. Abel is of Mexican heritage (compliments of his grandfather), but he was born in America. He tags her as coming from an elite class in Mexican society, a charge that makes her bridle. So, it looks like we’re going to explore several themes, among them the Latino experience in America in the second decade of the 21st century (with the threat of expulsion for many) and an implied caste system amongst Latinos (“What kind of ‘Latino’ are you?”).
However, there’s a subtle shift as the relationship between Lucia and Abel matures (a romance that buds but never flowers), a shift away from ethnic questions to ones dealing with life within the corporate system and selling out. Without wishing to be a spoiler, suffice it to say that what Abel reveals to Lucia about his life she uses to enhance her position with her boss. The ethnicity issues disappear as the play morphs into a “What Makes Sammy Run?” wannabe.
So, what’s the problem, really? Well, the audience is asked to invest a good deal of time and attention to what Saracho develops in the first 30 or so minutes of her play, only to have her “say” forget about all that, here’s what the play is really dealing with — I asked you to buy “Death by Chocolate” but I’m giving you white cake and vanilla icing. The fact that Lucia and Abel are Hispanics becomes irrelevant — it turns out what we’re dealing with is how you, regardless of your ethnicity, step on people as you climb up the corporate ladder.
The play uses a single set designed by Mariana Sanchez. It’s Lucia’s office. Okay, any problems? Yes, and it’s not so much with the set design (it’s pretty much a mid-level corporate office) as it is with the play’s episodic development of scenes, almost all of which end with Lucia and Abel leaving the office for the evening (and Lucia changing tops to indicate it’s another day). Scene after scene ends the same way — they leave the office. You wait for some variation to be played out on this enter-and-exit theme, but it rarely happens, and after awhile it can become a bit mind-numbing.
Whatever faults “Fade” has can’t be placed on the shoulders of the two actors. Ramos, with great control of her body language, creates an intriguing, multi-layered character with just enough “heat” and passion to suggest the conflicted woman hidden beneath the driven scriptwriter, no more so than in the “kiss” scene late in the play.
Martinez gives Abel a droll sense of humor and works manfully to deliver a great deal of exposition late in the show, telling a story that simply runs on for too long (again, not his fault). His sangfroid plays well against Ramos’s more histrionic character.
Thus, the question comes back to what “story” Saracho wants to tell. Because she seems to lose sight of her initial premise, you’re left with a feeling that you’ve seen two different plays. No matter how you slice it, “Fade” really doesn’t satisfy, whether you like chocolate or vanilla.
“Fade” runs through June 30. For tickets or more information call 860-527-7838 or go to www.theaterworkshartford.org