By William Wolf

DAPHNE'S DIVE  Send This Review to a Friend

There’s a long tradition of plays set in bars in which we meet an assortment of characters and learn about their life stories and problems. (Think “The Iceman Cometh” on the loftier side). “Daphne’s Dive,” written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the book for “In the Heights,” directed by Thomas Kail, who directed “Hamilton” and a Signature Theatre presentation, is an earthy example following the time-worn path and set in a North Philadelphia barroom. It turns out that the lively character assortment is well worth spending time with, and the acting does justice to the author’s take on them and her overall vision. We get to know everyone better as the play moves along.

The opening is briefly dramatic as Samira Wiley as Ruby comes on stage and says, “I am 11 years old,” then departs. It is a device repeated as Ruby intermittently makes a similar announcement as she gets older in an indication of the passage of time over a 17-year period. At the play’s end, we find Ruby back at 11, as we get a further explanation of what happened to reorient the trajectory of her life.

The bar and the apartment above has a Latino owner, Daphne, played with friendly assertiveness by Vanessa Aspillaga. She takes in Ruby to raise as a daughter after her parents are arrested. Daphne has a sister, Inez, portrayed by the attractive Daphne Rubin-Vega, who dresses more flashily, flaunts her figure and often cracks wise. Her husband, Acosta, played with confident bearing by Carlos Gomez, is a wheeler-dealer in pursuit of a political career.

Other characters include Jenn, an Asian-American, acted spiritedly by KK Moogie, a passionate, socially committed activist who wants to fix what’s wrong with the world. There is also Pablo, an aspiring artist played by Matt Saldivar, whose idea of art is to find scraps in the garbage of the bar and mold them into what he envisions as creative works. There is Rey, played by Gordon Joseph Weiss, who enjoys riding about with his motorcycle when he is not pursuing his trade of glass installation. (Weiss looks as if he could play Willie Nelson.)

The dialogue among the characters is often colorful, and as they frequent the bar, things begin to change. There is a lesbian encounter between Daphne and Jenn, and a traumatic event that has a profound effect. An undercurrent of social consciousness provides purpose as we note how characters wrestle with personal needs and demons.

(An idle thought: When people come into the bar they don’t order beer, they ask for a Heineken. Is product placement involved?)

“Daphne’s Dive” is clearly a talented work well worth a visit. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Reviewed May 20, 2016.

  

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