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Photograph: James Leynse

Theater review: Fade finds comedy in Latinx class tension from Hollywood

Written by
David Cote

Office cleaners expect to dispose of certain materials: reams of used paper, takeout food containers or broken phones. But Lucia (Annie Dow), a nervous newbie at a TV studio, challenges the best efforts of good-natured janitor Abel (Eddie Martinez). It’s not the crumpled drafts of scripts or beer bottles cluttering her generic office; Lucia talks a lot of trash—without meaning to. She’s a privileged Mexican-American woman, and Abel is a blue-collar Latino from East L.A. Their prickly and sweet talks after hours drive the class-conscious Fade. If that premise sounds like a sitcom pitch, at least playwright Tanya Saracho (Mala Hierba) supplies plenty of wit and attitude.

Like her peer in sharp-elbowed comedy, Leslye Headland, Saracho has a keen ear for delusions or hypocrisies. The difference is that Saracho writes of Latinx social issues, like the code-switching between Spanish and English required of people of color trying to navigate Anglo culture. Add the high pressure and egos of television writers, and you have a snake pit of bad faith and betrayal. “I could never see myself hanging out with any of those miserable douche bags,” confides Lucia. “They’re all white. Not that I have a problem with white people, but they’re that kind of white.” To which Abel can only shrug and answer, “That’s all white people to me.” Lucia’s been hired to inject realness into the show, and of course she turns to Abel for material, cheapening their friendship.

Despite Saracho’s smart, fluid dialogue and the tight staging by Jerry Ruiz, Fade suffers from two-hander structural monotony: She’s having a crisis, he shuts off the vacuum, and they talk. Saracho also makes Abel far more sympathetic than Lucia, who ends up (predictably) exploiting his “authentic” experiences. To her credit, the playwright doesn’t resort to sex or violence to gin up drama: Lucia begins as a selfish rich girl and doesn’t really have far to go. Both actors do nice, shaded work, but the teddy-bearish Martinez, wry and gently pushing back on Lucia’s B.S., wins the day. It’s a grim (and slightly leaden) irony that the guy who takes out the garbage is the one who gets used and tossed aside.

Cherry Lane Theatre (Off Broadway). By Tanya Saracho. Directed by Jerry Ruiz. With Annie Dow, Eddie Martinez. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission. Through Mar 5. Click here for full venue and ticket information.

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote       

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