Dallas — Tanya Saracho’s Fade, presented by the Dallas Theater Center and directed by Christie Vela, engages an important and relevant discussion on the situation that assails millennials who have grown up within communities of color and have made their way into so-called “white” spaces. That would be the generations who were not alive for the Civil Rights movement and progressive moments in mid-to-late 20th century America, but who are coming into their own in the current political climate of overt racism and sexism.
These spaces in the professional world—as well as in the political—underscore access to privilege. This not only connotes getting the proverbial foot-in-the-door but also having the power to voice and implement much-needed representational choices in the theater, television, film and other forms of media. Having a say as to the representational practices of subaltern groups (women, people of color, LGBT, differently abled, etc.) is the story of decades-long political and social struggle in a society bent on keeping their privilege heterosexual, white and male, while keeping everyone else at bay.
Saracho’s play offers an intimate look at the personal story of a Mexican woman writer working in the Hollywood television industry, a story that parallels Saracho’s. Written with humor and pathos, this play immediately brings the audience into the world of Lucía and Abel (pronounced in Spanish with a long A).
Lucía (Melisa Pereyra) is the new kid in town within the Los Angeles television studio system. At the beginning of the play, she snootily emphasizes that she is a novelist, having published one, from what appears to be a Mexico City upper-middle class background. She rants about her boss, John, and a co-worker, Gary, because they see her as a glorified translator or secretary. While neither John nor Gary ever appear on stage, their presence and maneuvers strongly affect Lucía. She urgently needs to be heard and seen as an equal player in order for her to change what she sees as the TV representation of Latinx people in stereotypical ways, i.e. maids, gardeners, barrio drug-taking gang members, sexy señoritas, Latin lovers—all basically from lower economic and educational backgrounds. Pereyra brings tremendous enthusiasm and energy to the role, which at times comes across a bit over the top; however, she also brings a great amount of humor and poignancy to her character. In a brilliant move by costume designer Melissa Panzarello, the changes in Lucía’s frame of mind are clearly signaled by the choice of wardrobe.
With a functional and modern-office scenic design by Diggle, lighting by Amanda West and sound by John M. Flores, this piece works well in the intimate space of the Wyly’s Sixth Floor Studio Theatre.
Abel (Franco Gonzalez; the role will be played by Ruben Carrazana Jan. 2-7), on the other hand, quietly inhabits the night-time space of the janitor. Upon first encountering him, Lucía speaks to him in Spanish, believing that Abel is monolingual. While he can speak Spanish, he quickly counters her by not only responding in perfect English, but challenging her assumptions about who he might be. Lucía is the hyperactive talker while Abel listens to her supportingly. Both characters are about the same age, both are attractive and share the closed quarters of Lucía’s office, a place she turns into a space for camaraderie between them. Things begin to get a bit sticky once Abel shares some of his personal history while simultaneously encouraging her to do whatever it takes to get ahead. Gonzalez brings a quiet and nurturing energy to the piece, counterbalancing Pererya’s exuberance.
Director Vela makes some wise choices with this timely piece. For instance, in the Stay Late talk back on opening night, an audience member asked Gonzalez why the long scene in which Abel vacuums the entire carpeted floor as we patiently watch. Gonzalez responded that Vela intentionally wanted him to take his time, thus affording a moment on stage so that a janitor—a person usually invisible both in workspaces and on the theatrical stage—is afforded visibility. The play has no intermission, but the timing does not lag, maintaining the energy throughout.
Another audience member commended both actors for their performances, since in this piece the two are almost constantly on stage, carrying the entire show. There were other audience members who strongly identified with the dilemma of being a person of color who now inhabits a predominantly white professional culture and the compromises one makes to one’s ethnic and cultural identity in order to fit in.
There is quite a bit of Spanish in this play, so on the way out I took the liberty of engaging five Anglo, monolingual audience members to see if they had any gaps in their understanding of the play due to language. They unanimously agreed that the Spanish did not interfere, given the context and the frequency with which Spanish circulates in Texas.
It was a pleasure to sit in the Wyly and see Latinx actors who are so totally bilingual that they have no traces of accents in either language. It is refreshing to see onstage the linguistic representation of many of my colleagues, students, and myself—who navigate both the Anglo and the Spanish-speaking worlds seamlessly—and the challenges of what this means with regards to the choices we make along the way. Saracho’s Lucía decides to do whatever it takes to make her mark and by doing so leaves us with concerns to ponder.
» Teresa Marrero is Professor of Latin American and Latinx Theater in the Spanish Department at the University of North Texas. She also serves as a steering committee member in the national network of the Latinx Theatre Commons.