by Brian Scott Lipton
I don’t make it a habit of spending time in bars, especially dive bars, but even if you’re like me, make an exception and walk into Daphne’s Dive. Ok, the bar in question, rendered to a perfectly realized T by the great set designer Donyale Werle, sits in the middle of the Linney Theatre (at the Pershing Square Theatre Center). And it is inhabited by seven people who come to vibrant life, thanks to a superb ensemble cast and the woman putting alternately poetic and fiercely realistic words in their mouths: Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Allegria Hudes.
This 100-minute one-act spans nearly two decades in the lives of these well-drawn characters, some of whom remain static, and others who change and grow dramatically. Foremost in the latter category is Ruby (the extraordinary Samira Wiley), whom we first meet as a physically and psychologically 11-year-old and whose wounds never fully heal, despite the efforts of her soon-to-be-adoptive mother, North Philadelphia bar owner Daphne (a superb Vanessa Aspillaga), a Puerto Rican immigrant whose journey over these 18 years turns out to be equally surprising and moving.
Daphne’s “regulars” include her sister Inez (a smashing Daphne Rubin-Vega), a successful Main Line matron married to Joe Acosta (a fine Carlos Gomez), a former activist turned high-powered business-owner turned local politician; semi-starving artist Pablo (a wonderfully believable Matt Saldivar); motorcycle-riding free spirit Rey (a convincing Gordon Joseph Weiss); and Jenn (an excellent KK Moogie, wildly outfitted by the gifted Toni-Leslie James), an anti-establishment protestor who is initially seen as a true life force but who eventually becomes an instrument of destruction and self-destruction. They drink, they argue, they drink, they laugh, they drink, they dance, they love, they lose, they drink.
Director Thomas Kail (who has a little hit on Broadway called Hamilton) lets the piece unfold at its own pace, which may feel a little too leisurely for the show’s first 15 minutes. But the momentum builds as Hudes intends as we learn more about each of these people and how they handle life’s ups and downs. More importantly, Kail and his crackerjack cast ensure that we always believe that these people are deeply connected to each other – which is one reason why they connect so strongly with those of us just on the outside.
So when theater this real is presented to us, we have only one choice: drink it in!
Daphne’s Dive runs through June 12 at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). To purchase tickets, call 212-244-7529 or visit signaturetheatre.org.
Photos: Joan Marcus