When I sat down for Tanya Saracho’s new play Fade, the pop-rock sounds of Julieta Venegas and Natalia Lafourcade were permeating the air of New York’s Cherry Lane Theater. In the one-act’s opening moments, Spanish dialogue punctuated moments of silence, as Fade‘s central characters – a Mexican-American TV writer and a studio janitor – conversed. While Fade eventually switches over to English, those first few minutes are a signal to those of us in the audience who grew up bilingually and biculturally: this is a show for us.
Born in Sinaloa, México, Tanya Saracho has made a name for herself as a playwright (Mala Hierba, El Nogalar) as well as a television writer (Looking, How to Get Away with Murder). The idea for Fade began when she was first hired to work for Devious Maids, eventually befriending two janitors during late nights spent at the office. While the show is not strictly autobiographical, Fade is a personal affair. It does, after all, stage awkward conversations between Lucia (played by Annie Dow) and Abel (Eddie Martinez) regarding their different experiences as a fresa-sounding Mexican-born novelist-turned-TV-writer and a working father of one who was born in LA yet openly describes himself as Mexican.
As Saracho told me, those clashes between two very different characters who might easily be lumped together as “Latinos” were what she wanted to explore.
“I stopped doing talkbacks because I kept needing to defend the [use of] Spanish.”
When she first shared the initial pages of what would become Fade to her writing group in Los Angeles, she was taken aback by her peers’ ignorance of the class issues that run through the US Latino community. “There were no Latinos in the writing group. But I was like, ‘Oh really? That’s horrible. You didn’t know that we import class from our country and track it here?’ There are 27 countries that make up the Latin diaspora and we all import their good and their bad stuff.” Fade is a play about what happens when class and ethnic hierarchies are brought to light.
It’s no accident that Lucia is working for a TV show whose writers made the lead a Latina but couldn’t be bothered to decide which country she came from. And even as Lucia tries to lead a crusade to make the show more authentic, her interactions with Abel merely put into relief just how clueless she can be about her own privilege. We see this in their first interaction when Lucia addresses him in Spanish and is surprised when he eventually replies in English, gently reminding her that some people are discouraged from speaking Spanish in their workplace. That moment seems designed to address the people in the audience uncomfortable with so much Spanish on stage. It’s something she’s had to address, especially during talkbacks for her play El Nogalar, a Mexican adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, which had plenty more scenes in Spanish and which left many audience members asking her outright: “Do you want to alienate us?”
— Tanya Saracho (@TanyaSaracho) January 19, 2017
“That’s why I stopped doing talkbacks, because I kept needing to defend the Spanish.” Somehow Spanish is, as one Chicago restaurant owner once dared say to her face, “the language of busboys.” These types of comments are what drive her to create plays that speak to the Latinx experience. As she would tell those contentious audience members, “I write two plays, I write a play for us and I write a play for you.” All bilingual entertainment, she believes, has to work on two tracks. And while that may be tricky to accomplish she knows there’s a way to do so, “and still tell a story for an American audience to consume. I’m convinced of it.” Fade is proof she may be on to something.
Fade is playing at Primary Stages in New York until March 5, 2017