Lucia, a sweet-natured ingenue, first novel under her belt, has been hired on a team of writers for a television show. It’s a high-action (fairly unsophisticated) detective show, and the hero is Latina. Lucia definitely feels out of her depth. She knows nothing about scripts or working in television. She suspects she’s there for affirmative action. She doesn’t like the people she works with, and feels frightened, isolated and vulnerable. Then she makes friends with Abel, the only other Latinx she knows at the firm. Abel is a janitor, but while Lucia is frantic, impulsive and lacks confidence, he is older, savvy and takes everything in stride. At the outset their connection is a bit dubious, as they try to find common ground. Lucia is eager to make friends with Abel as she feels lost among so many Anglos. Is it narrow to assume they share a culture, simply because of descent? However we answer that question, Lucia’s relief in finding someone who cares and understands the same things, and (of course) speaks the same language, is palpable and considerable.
Much of Fade considers the contrast between Abel and Lucia. She is congenial and accessible, but clearly Abel perceives her upper middle class station as wealth. Easy to understand when more doors open for her. Lucia is genuine when she takes Abel into her confidence, comes to him when life gets overwhelming. They create a refuge in her office where they can nosh, drink beer and enjoy each other’s company, without worrying about breaking character in a world predominated by white people. Fade seems to beg a question, though, a crucial distinction. Does Lucia belong more to Anglos who have formal education and a level of prosperity closer to her own? Or Abel, who is very intelligent, with no discrepancy between who he actually is and how he behaves.
Several key events emerge that create turning points in Fade. [I guess this is where I may lapse into indiscreet revelations]. When Abel tells Lucia a secret, it’s nearly guaranteed that she will break her promise. When she kisses him impulsively (even though he graciously dismisses it) we can tell it upsets her more. When Gary, an office enemy, is taken down, she’s profoundly shaken, despite the fact that she’s done nothing unethical or aggressive. She’s upset with herself. When an event doesn’t add up, this is playwright Tanya Saracho’s cue to look beneath the surface. In each instance, it would be so much easier and better to let things go, and yet they seem to get under Lucia’s skin. To nudge her.
Saracho’s fable concerning assimilation, loyalty, and what is truly necessary to succeed, is nothing short of sublime. It’s a very touching narrative, and Lucia’s demeanor is so disarming and sincere, it’s easy to believe these two would become friends. Which is why the resolution is so much worse. Because we care for them both. Fade is different from numerous current shows: it gives us more than the bare bones required to fulfill a linear equation. It feels thorough (not minimal) but neither does any of it feel like scaffolding. And the betrayal, when it comes, does not play out as an explosion, but nearly invisibly. Questions are raised, but the catastrophic never acknowledged. Saracho has broken our hearts, with merciless, guileless finesse.
The Dallas Theater Center presents Fade, playing December 6th, 2017 – January 7th, 2018. ATTPAC: Wyly Studio Theatre, 2400 Flora Street, Dallas 75201. 214-526-8210. www.dallastheatercenter.org