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A new play ponders the cost of thriving
When a character resembles the playwright who created her, audiences have to wonder: how much of this fiction is rooted in reality?
It's a particularly apt question for Tanya Saracho, whose two-hander Fade (presented in its New York premiere by Primary Stages through March 5 at the Cherry Lane Theatre) features a woman of Mexican descent who uses her personal life for inspiration in a new job as a television writer. Because Saracho herself hails from Mexico and began writing for television several years ago, she has a disclaimer at the ready.
"This didn't happen, this plot," she explains. Fade chronicles the evolving friendship between Lucia, a one-time novelist newly hired at a swanky Hollywood studio, and Abel, a Mexican-American janitor and the only other Spanish speaker in the vicinity. And while Saracho – who moved to Los Angeles to join the writing staff of Devious Maids, How to Get Away With Murder, and more – did indeed borrow from her experiences to lay the groundwork for the play, she invented Abel, his circumstances, and his tête-à-têtes with Lucia.
"I did know two janitors, the only Latinos I saw for the first few months," she recalls of her first TV writing gig. One of them, she remembers, mentioned that he was from El Sereno, California, a detail she gave to Abel's story. Imagination filled in the rest.
Despite not being a literal transcription of her life, however, Saracho's play is infused with her perspective. Even beyond the trials of writing for television, it reflects her experience of the economic and identity issues surrounding her two characters. "It's not a play about a first-year TV writer," she says. "I wanted to write about class: how we trap it and import it from Mexico, or any Latin American country."
To that end, Saracho has been thinking about her own class privileges. She says she got into television, for instance, to "support [her] theatre habit," and now that she has flourished on the small screen, she is asking herself uncomfortable questions about her roots. The play's title, in fact, refers to the possibility of fading into mainstream culture.
"I was defensive and protective of Lucia because I have some affinity or guilt I'm dealing with," she says. Ultimately, however, she put faith in the barrier between creator and creation. "I thought, 'OK, she's not your avatar, Tanya. You can just write this play.'"
Besides, she says, theatre will always be her favorite means of storytelling, no matter how long her affair with television might last. "I'm about the now, and that's the nature of the art form," she explains. "We're sitting there, and we're having this communal experience. Actors are pretending to be something, our reality is all around us. If a fire happens, we all have to deal with it. That's the magic of it."
TDF Members: At press time, discount tickets were available to Fade. Go here to browse our current offers.
Follow Jack Smart at @JackSmartWrites. Follow TDF at @<"http://twitter.com/TDFNYC">TDFNYC.
Photos by James Leynse. Top photo: Annie Dow and Eddie Martinez