Theater review: 'Fade': An inauthentic feel to a play that demands authenticity

HARTFORD, Conn. — The first meeting between Lucia and Abel in Tanya Saracho's formulaic "Fade" is loaded with false assumptions and jaded perceptions.

Lucia (pronounced "Loo-see-ya") is an acculturated Mexican-American novelist born in Mexico, now living in Chicago. She's come to Los Angeles to write for a television series that features a Latina detective as its central character.

Abel (pronounced "Ah-bell") is a janitor in her office. As played, with affecting insight, by Eddie Martinez in the steady, fitfully engaging production of "Fade" at TheaterWorks, Abel is a decent man with a wry, at times, caustic, sense of humor who is doing the best he can to make a stable life. He was born into a Mexican family in a section of East Los Angeles, where he still lives. Experience has shaped Abel in singular ways. He is wary, cynical, shrewdly protective of himself and his family. He is a survivor, keenly attuned to the strategies he must play out in order to stay on course. He is never less than authentic.

Authenticity is a key issue for Lucia (a less-than-satisfying Elizabeth Ramos, especially in the early going); a novelist with only one book to her credit, who's never written for television; who is defined by her colleagues and boss by their stereotypical vision — a diversity-hire, she is told by the show's senior writer.

Pushed to a limit, Lucia turns to Abel for help. As "Fade" progresses, Abel's experiences, streetsmarts, perceptions of the world begin shaping Lucia's work and the tenuous hold she has had on her newfound career begins to gain ground.

But Lucia's upward mobility comes at a profound cost.

Saracho is interested in roots, what we owe our heritage, how we claim and assert who and what we are. "Fade" also examines the possibility of survival of integrity in an atmosphere that is choked by ambition and betrayal; in which morality and ethics are redefined and success is measured by the size of one's office and how high up in the building that office is.

Saracho also is interested in the responsibility of an artist to be authentic. Just how far, for example, can an artist, a writer, go in appropriating someone else's narrative for their own needs.

Jerry Ruiz, who directed "Fade's East Coast premiere Off-Broadway in February/March, with Martinez as Abel, has directed this production with a steady hand. At the same time, there is nothing in Saracho's writing we haven't seen or heard in other material, some less successful, some more.

It doesn't help that Saracho's Lucia, especially as played by Ramos, is so unappealing and unsympathetic. She does have her moments, especially in the play's later moments and Ramos rises to those occasions. But despite those moments and despite Martinez' richly nuanced performance, there is an underlying feeling of manipulation in "Fade." A play in which questions of authenticity form such a strong thread suddenly feels so inauthentic.

Reach Jeffrey Borak at 413-496-6212


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