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Signature Theatre
Daphne’s Dive

By Quiara Alegría Hudes
Directed by Thomas Kail

Signature Theatre
(Signature Theatre Website)
James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director
Erika Mallin, Exec. Director
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 244-PLAY (7529)

Vanessa Aspillaga, Carlos Gomez, KK Moggie
Daphne Rubin-Vega, Matt Saldivar
Gordon Joseph Weiss, Samira Wiley

Scenic Design: Donyale Werle
Costume Design: Toni-Leslie James
Lighting Design: Betsy Adams
Sound Design: Nevin Steinberg
Music: Michel Camilo
Production Stage Manager: Lori Ann Zepp
Casting: Telsey + Company/Karyn Casl/CSA
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Artistic Director: Beth Whitaker
General Manager: Gilbert Medina
Director of Marketing/Audience Services: David Hatkoff
Director of Production: Paul Ziemer

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 27, 2016

Quiara Alegría Hudes has written an embracing play about an urban cast of characters, who congregate at the North Philly bar, Daphne’s Dive, during the late 1990’s and first decade of the millennium. Daphne (Vanessa Aspillaga) is just the seasoned and savvy kind of friend we’d all like to have, and she serves drinks, too. She’s toughened by the former men in her life, plus a series of losses and crises, but every day she opens her bar, which she owns with pride, and readies herself for her visitors. The characters we meet are not strangers, or even casual acquaintances, but rather her fast-talking, now upscale sister, Inez (Daphne Rubin-Vega), Inez’ husband, Acosta (Carlos Gomez), a real estate owner and builder, who helps his wife’s family and friends, Jenn (KK Moggie), a hippie, sociopolitical activist, who creates public stunts to attract attention to her daily causes, Pablo (Matt Saldivar), a contemporary artist, who rounds up street trash to enhance this giant paintings with cultural messages, and Rey (Gordon Joseph Weiss), a biker and construction worker, who can cut glass windows. The final character, Ruby (Samira Wiley), in a breakout role, becomes the central focus of the play, as we watch her mature in language, education, and poise, and, unfortunately, in adult levels of fear and alcohol addiction, with the bar’s ready bottles of liquor making woes vanish.

When the intermission-less play opens, 11 year-old Ruby, who hides among the trash cans, is looking for a home, as her parents had just been arrested, and she dashed into the street When the play presents its final scene, Ruby is 27, tending the bar and calculating its books. As each scene opens, Ruby announces her age. This is how we analyze the sequential conversations and recent past events, some of which we have not witnessed. One of those offstage and off-the-book scenes is a disaster that happens to one of the characters, and Ruby, upon hearing the news, is frozen in existential terror. She regresses to a state of utter loss, more tortuous than in the first scene, when she was found huddling outside the bar. Ms. Wiley exuded the requisite pain and pathos that gave her character so much magnetism and depth. We also witness the falling apart of Inez and Acosta’s marriage, as Acosta wins a local political office that enhances his community reputation, with the help of Daphne and friends, while also winning favors from young attractive women. We watch Pablo’s art career stall, then flourish with a gallery show in progress. We watch Rey, mostly observant and looking for company, add support to the clan’s mutual nurturing. And, we watch Daphne, whose life has been just as hard as her peers, but her skin was thick and she struggled and survived, especially after adopting Ruby, following her fateful find. She needed a child, and Ruby needed a mother. It’s that kind of play, but without the sugary gloss.

Thomas Kail, Director, keeps this production intensely urban and naturalistic. I had the feeling I could take a train to North Philly, step into a corner bar, and find a similar enclave of needy souls. Donyale Werle, set designer, added the requisite amount of worn linoleum, vinyl, and wood, with a cheap, stained glass light fixture and lots and lots of liquor bottles, in all shapes and sizes. Toni-Leslie James’ costumes were most striking in Jenn’s bikini in American flag motif and her boxes of scarves for a street stunt, thanks to Acosta’s helpful gift. In fact, one might say that “help” is an operative word in this play, with each character offering emotional, or financial, or logistical, or practical, or familial help for one another, to the best of his or her unique abilities. The loss of one struck hard. It left the remaining characters tightly bonded, whether in fleeting or permanent relationships. Rarely does a new, one-act play induce such thought-provoking introspection. Kudos to Ms. Hudes.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at