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BWW Review: Quiara Alegria Hudes' Warm and Inviting DAPHNE'S DIVE Is Worth A Visit


From plays like Lanford Wilson's THE HOT L BALTIMORE to sitcoms like "Cheers," the scenario of a group of otherwise unassociated people forming a makeshift family at a central meeting place has always been a popular one.

Vanessa Aspillaga and
Samira Wiley (Photo: Joan Marcus)

So much of Quiara Alegria Hudes' DAPHNE'S DIVE, chronicling seventeen years in the lives of the regulars who gather at a cheap North Philadelphia corner bar, may seem familiar. But the writing is warm and inviting and director Thomas Kail's very strong cast makes this new drama worth a visit.

"I am eleven," says Ruby when the play commences in 1994. Played by grown-up Samira Wiley, Ruby's announcement of her age at the beginning of every scene signifies time passing.

The Daphne in question, played by a grounded and emotionally guarded Vanessa Aspillaga, has her reasons for never being married nor even having a sex life, and spends all of her days running her neighborhood watering hole.

"I own a bar," she says. "I need two feet to stand, two hands to mix, a brain to add. All these other parts? Extraneous."

Regulars include energetic social activist performance artist Jenn (KK Moggie), mellowed out good ol' boy biker Rey (Gordon Joseph Weiss) and Pablo (excellent Matt Saldivar), a proud and accomplished visual artist fallen on hard times who has taken to dumpster diving to acquire free materials for his creations.

Another frequent visitor is Daphne's chic suburban sister Inez (Daphne Rubin-Vega), who is married to Acosta (Carlos Gomez), a successful businessman with political aspirations.

Matt Saldivar and Daphne Rubin-Vega
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

11-year-old Ruby is introduced when Pablo finds her behind a dumpster, cut up by glass after jumping through her family's apartment building during a police raid. In the next scene, taking place four years later, we learn Daphne has adopted Ruby. As the years go by Hudes gradually reveals more about why Daphne chose to take on motherhood.

In the meantime, a relationship develops, another falls apart, there's cause for celebration, cause for grieving, lives change and, naturally, shots are consumed. Without a continuous plot, DAPHNE'S DIVE is more of a portrait of lives realized through a collage of events.

The canvas is provided by designer Donyale Werle's terrifically accurate set, featuring a faux Tiffany lamp and strings of Christmas lights crisscrossing the ceiling. Michel Camilo's funky piano scoring between scenes is a snazzy mood-enhancer.

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