By Karen Isaacs
When we think about stereotyping people by gender, age, ethnicity, we usually assume that it members of outside groups who do that to people unlike themeslves. Men stereotype women, whites stereoptype Africian-Americans and more.
The new play at TheaterWorks in Hartford, Fade by Tanya Saracho makes us aware of how within a group, the stereotyping can occur. Women stereotype other women, Asians stereotype other Asians and Hispanics stereotype other Hispanics.
In this case, it is two Latinos who stereotype each other including jumping to conlusions about their histories and futures.
Lucia is a newly hired writer on a popular TV show; a novelist (one book), she views this job in LA as a way to pay the bills so that she can return to her serious writing. On her first day on the job, she meets Abel, a janitor. The assumptions begin. She speaks to him in Spanish though she has never met him before; she assumes that all janitors in LA are Mexican. Abel responds in English and soon points out that while he is of Mexican heritage, his parents and he were all born and raised in the U.S.
Abel assumes she is from the Mexican elite, and to some extent he is correct. While she claims not to be by pointing out that she worked her way through college, she also lets drop that she and all her friends had maids and other household help. But they bond over some things as well.
The play is about their interactions and relationship which develops as she complains about the entire male group of writers. She is horrified by the stereotypical Latina characters on the TV and the patronizing ways of her fellow writes, all white males. It is perhaps symbolic of her outsider status that her office is a floor below all the others. One even told her she was the token minority female.
Lucia and Abel talk to each other constantly until you wonder how either gets any work done. They complain that most people mispronounce their names. She begins speaking up more in the writers’ meetings and gains some praise from her boss. She is becoming a solid member of the team. Slowly her attitude that this is just a job to pay the bills changes to one of more ambition to succeed at the studio.
During this period, you think that a romance might develop between the two. Abel is well spoken and obviously educated. In fact, he reveals that he had been a firefighter until he was arrested and jailed on a violence issue. He tells Lucia about his past and the incident that involved his daughter’s mother and sister; he is devoted to his daughter.
At one point, Lucia is working on a script and asks Abel for permission to use the reference to his tattoo – “Semper Fi” and his former firefighter status as part of the plot line. He agrees.
It is here that this play about stereotypes and connections dramatically changes course. In the last 10-15 minutes, it seems as though Lucia has been infected not only with the desire to succeed on her job but that whatever ethical standards she has have been pushed aside.
Abel happens to see the episode in which the “Semper Fi” is to be used; to his horror it includes not just that but ALL the details of the violence episode, even using his exact words that he had told Lucia.
He is angry but Lucia seems oblivious to the problem and believes he had given her blanket permission to use his life. The final scene shows Lucia in NYC as an executive at the network, callously agreeing to firesome, and Abel still a janitor.
The issue of authors using the reality of their lives and the lives of friends in their works is both common in literature (the play Collected Stories deals with it) and it is an interesting issue. What are the ethical dimensions of taking people’s stories and retelling or fictionalizing them? Must permission be granted? Do writers (and artists) necessarily betray their confidants?
But this issue enters Fade much too late in the play. It is not developed in any way. It almost seems like a way to break up the relationship and come to a conclusion. So it certainly left me unsatisfied.
Jerry Ruiz has done a fine job directing the two person cast. Eddie Martinez is a standout as Abel, giving us a multi-dimensional character. Every part of his performance rings true, and you see the conflicting emotions when he realizes that Lucia has betrayed him.
As Lucia, Elizabeth Ramos does not bring the same depth to the role; she seems more superficial but perhaps that is because author reveals less about her.
Mariana Sanchez has created an appropriate office set with a window that lets us see out to the corridor where Eddie works. That may not be realistic but it adds to the action.
Fade is one of those plays that seems to be more meaningful than it actual is and the introduction of a new topic in the last 15 minutes contributes to my leaving the performance dissatisfied.
It is at TheaterWork, 233 Pearl St., Hartford through June 30. For tickets visit TheaterWorks or call 860-527-7838.