In the multitude of shows I’ve seen and reviewed in Connecticut over the years, I’ve rarely felt so much empathy toward a character as I do for Abel, played by Eddie Martinez in Fade, a new “dramedy” directed by Jerry Ruiz at TheaterWorks.
I was so captured by his performance, despite all we don’t have in common—his character is a young, Latino single father, living and working as a custodian in Los Angeles—that I found myself praying he would not end up hurt and betrayed by Lucia (played by Elizabeth Ramos), a TV writer whose office he cleans, even as I saw it coming.
Both talented young actors are making their TheaterWorks debut.
The two-person, one-act play, written by Tanya Saracho (writer, co-producer of ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder and HBO’s Girls) intimately knows of what she writes: Her character, Lucia, is a young Mexican-American fiction writer who isn’t selling too many copies of her first published novel and needs a paying gig, so she takes a job as a writer for an insipid TV detective series, moving to Hollywood, where she doesn’t know a soul.
All the action takes place in Lucia’s sterile, institutional office (designed by Mariana Sanchez) where night and day is designated by the opening and closing of the mini-blinds, florescent lighting replaced by softer lamp light, (lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker), and Abel’s arrival after hours to empty the trash and vacuum. M.L. Dogg’s hip music score (that’s a little louder than necessary) punctuates the basic scene changes, which are mostly Lucia’s costume changes, designed by Harry Nadal.
Just as the scenery is intentionally predictable and bland, Saracho’s fresh, relevant dialogue-driven story—shaped by Ruiz’s sharp, intent direction—is unpredictable and multi-faceted.
Lucia is lonely and socially challenged—she has been hired as the token Latina and treated accordingly by her white male boss and colleagues upstairs, who we only know by the vivid picture she paints of them.
She tries to commiserate with Abel, but ends up alienating him by making stereotypical assumptions about race and class. She speaks to him in Spanish, presuming he doesn’t speak English, and doesn’t understand why he doesn’t think it’s cool to speak Spanish at work.
“Last I checked, it’s America,” he says, while she calls him “Donald J,” under her breath.
Abel points out that he was born here, in El Serino, a neighborhood on the eastside of LA and also that they are not the same social class: she was born in Mexico, but raised with a maid, and had the luxury of higher education and time to write a novel “in her pajamas.”
But Abel softens—Lucia is pretty and smart and always apologizing for her dumb remarks and he makes a few of his own—and they start hanging out together in the evenings while she runs plot ideas by him for her TV script and he commiserates as she complains about the sexist, racist treatment of her co-workers.
Eventually Lucia breaks through Abel’s hard exterior—we can tell he’s a mensch on the inside—and exposes his raw vulnerability when he finally opens up to her about a tragic life-changing event that ended his career as a firefighter and landed him in his custodial job.
In a nasty twist, she uses Abel’s personal story for her own gain with her employer, allowing her ambition to overshadow her cultural bond and growing friendship, and even a possible romance, with Abel.
Ramos’s performance is superb. She pulls us in and keeps us on our toes trying to figure out her character. She is funny and endearing and we applaud her chutzpah, and hope that she will do the right thing, while at the same time we are embarrassed by her insensitivity, and disappointed by her selfish choices.
It is much easier to care about Abel; he is so much more likable, his moral compass so much more aligned. Even at curtain call, Martinez doesn’t break out of character—he takes his role that much to heart, and in turn touches the audience’s hearts just as deeply.
Fade is a play about important, complex current topics, and equally important, complex human relationships.
Performances of Fade continue at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, downtown Hartford through June 30. Tickets are available at www.theaterworkshartford.org or by calling 860-527-7838.