BWW Review: Trinity Rep's FADE Delights and Infuriates in Equal Measure
Tanya Saracho's FADE is a witty and insightful look into work/life power dynamics. What makes this particular story so interesting is the manipulation of status as a minority in the workplace--against another person of the same minority group. Our two characters--Lucia (Elia Saldana) and Abel (Daniel Duque-Estrada) are both Mexican, but he works as a cleaner in her office, and she is a television writer. Playwright Saracho deftly manipulates ideas of class, and uses perceived shared culture as a weapon, and the result is both hilarious and maddening. Saldana and Duque-Estrada play off each other very well keeping the energy high in this 100 minute production.
When we meet Lucia, she is just starting a new job as a television writer. She had previously written a novel, but then found that she needed to earn a more steady income, so with no actual television writing experience, she managed to land a job doing just that. Initially, she seems confident, but when cleaner Abel comes into her office, she immediately breaks into rapid Spanish and seems relieved to have encountered someone who may have a similar cultural background to hers. Abel, mostly just ignores her, but eventually she manages to draw him into a conversation that begins with him asking "Why are you speaking to me in Spanish?"
From there, Lucia and Abel start to develop what seems like a friendship, but there's always a class gulf between them, which Lucia both dismisses and exploits. Abel had been a firefighter and served in the Marines, but a stint in prison means he's stuck doing cleaning work, whereas Lucia grew up in Mexico with wealthy parents and freely admits that she's indifferent to her writing job. Abel calls her spoiled; she says his family has been in the United States too long for him to be a "real Mexican."
What's particularly effective is how Saracho digs into how two people who are "other" in their office can still find ways to "other" each other. Lucia bonds with Abel about how she feels like a diversity hire, and he gets indignant on her behalf. But we only ever hear about Lucia's office life from her, and she may be manipulating the facts a bit in order to get Abel on her side. In this performance, Elia Saldana really shines. She initially seems like an out-of-touch princess, but she manages to break down Abel's defenses and win him over, all with the audience never really knowing who she actually is. Saldana also manages to get the audience on her side and mostly keep them there, even as we start to see more of her manipulations. When the cracks in her stories start to appear, she's still fascinating to watch.
Duque-Estrada is frequently cast as the steady and reliable one, and it's a role he plays well. At no point, even after learning Abel was briefly in prison, does he seem like anything other than a solidly good guy. We get a few flashes of frustration from him, but he mostly seems resigned to doing his job. It's frustrating to watch him be manipulated, but since he seems like he doesn't have a deceptive bone in his body, it's easy to see how it happens. Duque-Estrada manages to work in some sly comic relief through excellent facial expressions and barely concealed exasperation to Lucia's more ridiculous statements.
Because this show is so interesting to unpack intellectually, it's easy to almost forget how funny it is. There are some excellent zingers, and director Tatyana-Marie Carlo keeps the pace moving at a good clip. It's refreshing to see a show that takes many familiar concepts and really turns those sideways in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.
Fade runs December 5, 2019 - January 5, 2020 at Trinity Rep 201 Washington St., Providence RI. Tickets start at $27 and are available at the box office at (401) 351-4242 or visit Trinity Rep's website at www.TrinityRep.com.
Photo: Elia Saldana as Lucia and Daniel Duque-Estrada as Abel. Photo by Mark Turek.