There is going to be a betrayal. Not of the sexual kind, but rather, one involving social class and intra-ethnic differences. And while the person betrayed has had enough experience in life to know that more often than not this is the way of the world, it does not make the betrayal any less painful.
That, in brief, is the moral of the story in Tanya Saracho’s two-character play, “Fade,” now receiving its Chicago premiere in a co-production by Teatro Vista and Victory Gardens Theater.
When: Through Dec. 23
Where: Teatro Vista at
Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln
Tickets: $15 – $56
Run time: 100 minutes, with no intermission
Before going any further, a few words about Saracho that might suggest her play is more than a little quasi-autobiographical. Born in Mexico, she spent her childhood traversing the border as her parents were divorced, and her businessman father lived in Mexico while her mother lived in Texas. She forged her career as a playwright and actress in Chicago, and then moved to Los Angeles where she quickly became a successful television writer whose credits include Lifetime’s “Devious Maids,” HBO’s “Girls” and “Looking,” and ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” (produced by Chicago-bred Shonda Rhimes, who gets a brief mention in the play).
“Fade” spins around Lucia (Sari Sanchez), a young Latinx novelist from Chicago who has moved to L.A. after landing a much-coveted job as a television writer. A total novice and full of insecurities and panicky outbursts, she feels like a fish out of water. Hyper-aware of being thought of by some as “a diversity hire,” she also finds herself in a writers’ room with older white men from whom she feels entirely alienated.
In fact, in her initial months on the job, Lucia bonds primarily with Abel (Eddie Martinez), the Mexican American who has grown up in L.A. and works as a janitor during the night-time hours when she can be found obsessing about her self-doubt and loneliness. Lucia is a neurotic, self-involved mess from a relatively privileged background. Abel is a solid soul who has served in the Marines (the U.S. Marine Corps motto, “Semper fi” is tattooed on his arm), worked as a fireman, and has a more complicated personal history than should be revealed here. And while the two get off on the wrong foot, their Mexican roots in no way help forge an instant connection, especially since Lucia makes certain misguided, even condescending assumptions about Abel. But gradually they establish a bond.
Along the way, Abel’s real life story and insightful ideas (there is a touch of Sam Shepard’s “True West” at work here) become grist for Lucia’s mill, and in many ways contribute to her career breakthrough. But she sells her already questionable soul in the process of winning points for herself.
The play, directed by Sandra Marquez, is a canny indictment of success at any price. But it also deals rather heavy-handedly with a multitude of familiar cultural clichés including everything from Mexican-versus-American food, to the condescending treatment of Latino maids by super-wealthy TV execs, to the somewhat less widely known fact (about which Lucia is clearly oblivious) that some restaurant owners often forbid their Latino staff from speaking Spanish with the public.
The wildly expressive Sanchez energetically punches every button of Lucia’s hyper-emotional state, but her character’s unrelenting rage and resentment can grow exhausting. (As we have been reminded in recent weeks, Hollywood is no dream factory for many women.) Martinez, a wonderfully warm and easily ingratiating actor, serves as an immensely humanizing counter-balance and gives a winningly nuanced performance.
Designer Regina Garcia’s initial IKEA-like office set and Christine Pascual’s sharp wardrobe upgrade for Lucia, deftly signal a shift in her fortunes. For Abel (and the biblical name is just right), the sound of a vacuum cleaner will remain a constant.