A Latina writer faces race and class inequality in ‘Fade’ at Unexpected Stage Company

Tanya Saracho's play is an enjoyable shock of life that finds friction and connection in two people’s different experiences of Mexican and Mexican-American cultures.

Alone in a new city, Lucia struggles to find her footing as the only Latina writer on a white-male–dominated network TV writing staff. Balancing her desire to proudly proclaim her Latina identity, despite her workplace’s (not-so-subtle) racism, with the temptation to keep her head down and continue the status quo to make things “easier,” she finds herself confiding in the night janitor, Abel. A friendship quickly forms even as their positions and conflicting points of view challenge each other. But will it survive when elements of Abel’s life turn up in Lucia’s scripts? In Fade, written by Tanya Saracho, Unexpected Stage Company explores how the many different facets of a culture and “unequal” positions can sometimes blind you to the experiences of others.

Michael Burgos as Abel and Camila Calderón as Lucia in Unexpected Stage Company’s ‘Fade.’ Photo by David Lewis.

Lodged solidly within her own interpretation of the world is Lucia, played by Camila Calderón. Passing through the previous stages of her life with relative ease and privilege, Lucia is often unable to see the consequences of her actions as they impact others, primarily Abel. Where she sees a productive character development session, Abel is at risk of losing his job and the means through which he supports his daughter. Throughout, Calderón super-charges Lucia with desperation as she battles to prove that she is valuable and worthy of a seat at the table, quite literally. It is that intensity that made many scenes so superbly uncomfortable as she advances (in her view) forward no matter the cost; seeking ever higher positions in attempts to solidify her value externally.

Abel, played by Michael Burgos, approaches life in a much quieter, and yet just as intense, way. Incredibly motivated by community and his desire to be a part of a team (from the Marines to the firehouse to his complicated connection with Lucia), he allows Lucia to push past his boundaries and break through his reticence to share even the darkest days of his life’s story. Burgos delivers a wonderfully nuanced and subtle performance of a man hopeful for connection and yet scarred by moments of his past.

I particularly enjoyed Burgos’ skill at turning transitional actions, with something as simple as vacuuming, into both expressions of his slowly growing hope to spend more time with Lucia as well as into an interplay (literally, sometimes) with the audience, inviting us to reflect on our individual experiences of interacting with service workers throughout our lives. Dignified and diligent, Burgos’ Abel was focused, which foiled well off of Calderón’s wild-swinging, conflicted Lucia.

This complicated and uneven relationship is shaped for the production under the thoughtful direction of Dylan Arredondo. His ability to choreograph the passage of time, in particular, was delightful. From the rhythmic reorganizing of standard office furniture to the simple and yet incredibly effective use of an unreliable bookshelf, he creatively used the heavily carpeted space to map out a familiar office scene.

Adding to the ambiance was the lively sound design by Matthew Mills and the moodily phased lighting design by Jozef Orisich. Costume design by Sharlene Clinton also highlighted the differences and similarities of the two opposite sides of the “same world.” And I have to give a particular shoutout to Set Designer Simone Schneeberg for her playful touches throughout, from the barrage of crumpled paper harnessing Lucia’s frustration to the representative blue bow of Abel’s hope.

Michael Burgos as Abel and Camila Calderón as Lucia in Unexpected Stage Company’s ‘Fade.’ Photo by David Lewis.

Nestled in the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation Building, Fade is an enjoyable shock of life that finds friction as frequently as it finds connection in two peoples’ different experiences and opinions of Mexican and Mexican-American culture. While having an understanding of the Spanish language and Mexican culture does add to the experience, it is certainly not a prerequisite to finding connection to the production. Lively, sharp, witty, and challenging, Unexpected Stage Company’s Fade makes you question if we have to leave pieces of ourselves and our culture behind as we climb to “the top” and if, in the end, that climb is worth the cost.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

Fade plays through November 13, 2022, presented by Unexpected Stage Company performing at the Fireside Room of the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation building, 6301 River Road, Bethesda, MD. Tickets ($14–$35) can be purchased online.

Fade contains strong language/themes.

COVID-19 policy: Audience members will be required to wear masks in the theater regardless of vaccination status. Unexpected Stage Company recommends that everyone attending have their COVID-19 vaccinations.

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