Theater Review: “Daphne’s Dive” at the Signature Theater

Rayanne Gonzales, Jonathan Atkinson, Yesenia Iglesias, Jyline Carranza and Quynh-My Luu in ‘Daphne’s Dive’ at the Signature Theater. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

If these walls could talk, Daphne’s Dive, a fictional neighborhood bar in Philadelphia, might have more to say than it should.

…entertaining…A powerful cast…

With the Puerto Rican flag hanging proudly from the wall, brightly colored paper pom poms hanging from the ceiling and a row of red vinyl stools lined along the bar counter, Meghan Raham’s ensemble is already whispering colorful characters who will wear a toast to victories and memories on its checkerboard floor. Yet the flash piece “Daphne’s Dive” by Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegría Hudes contains so many hard-hitting revelations that the story loses its potency in favor of melodrama.

Spanning nearly two decades, seven characters find family – with all the frustrations and betrayals that entails – in the diving neighborhood owned by the eponymous Daphne (Rayanne Gonzales). Serving drinks with warmth and patience despite mysteriously chronic stomach pains, Daphne provides a stable spine in action, thanks to Gonzales’ masterful performance.

Daphne has built a life for herself as a small-scale landlord and business owner, far from the island where she and her sister, Inez (Yesenia Iglesias), grew up. While Inez has the best house in her neighborhood with a prized gourd vine and a successful husband – Acosta (James Whalen), a glassmaker with bigger ambitions – Daphne lives alone, kept awake at night by delinquent tenants. upstairs. His bar hosts a large crowd, including larger-than-life political performance artist, Jenn (Quynh-My Luu); the freewheeling biker, Rey (Jefferson Russell); and a struggling artist, Pablo (Jonathan Atkinson), who hopes to raid the bar’s dumpster to find the subject of his next painting: trash. Yet their whole life receives an unexpected addition when one quiet morning, Pablo finds Ruby (Jyline Carranza), an injured and neglected 11-year-old girl, behind the bar.

While this motley crew clearly forms deeper bonds than just bar regulars, many of those relationships are underexplored. Jenn is bursting with personality the moment she steps onto the stage in skimpy red and white striped shorts, blue star pasties, a protest flag and little else. But how a radical came close to an ambitious capitalist like Acosta remains mystifying, draining dramatic tension from future estrangements. Meanwhile, Rey’s character is so superficial and her storyline so minimal that you wonder why she’s featured. Likewise, Atkinson’s fun and charismatic Pablo leaves you wishing his arc was more substantial.

They are the women of “Daphne’s Dive” whose lives and relationships are best defined, albeit most often by trauma and suffering, such as divorce and childhood sexual abuse. The little moments of joy and togetherness that bind families beyond blood or legal ties are all too rare in a story that instead leans on the fights and fractures that separate. Despite a solid cast of performers, a few beats of stiff dialogue suggested that maybe a few more rehearsals would have allowed director Paige Hernandez to smooth out the last wrinkles.

In production design, “Daphne’s Dive” hits the mark, starting with the hyper-realistic staging of the bar where only immaculate cleanliness distinguishes it from a real neighborhood dive. Kenny Neal’s sound design begins to immerse us with tunes from a Philadelphia radio station as the audience finds its footing. As the play jumps through the years, the music, combined with John D. Alexander lighting, lends a dreamy quality to transitional scenes where clothes, hairstyles, and bar specials change.

While the game’s internal timeline is easily traced by Ruby’s age, the year the events occur is murky until the end of the series when a mention of the Occupy Wall Street movement provides a point of reference. Moyenda Kulemeka’s costumes don’t do much to clarify the timeline, but complement each distinctive personality. While Daphne looks laid back and relaxed in a jersey or unbuttoned Phillies flannel, Inez looks polished and polished in sheath dresses. Pablo’s bold colors and patterns suit a contemporary artist, while flashy outfits and distressed jeans reflect Jenn’s countercultural leanings.

While “Daphne’s Dive” may not be Alegría Hudes’ best piece, it is entertaining enough. A powerful throw lifts uneven material. Despite the emotional hits that overwhelm the crowded bar and script, the many twists ensure that “Daphne’s Dive” never drags. Centering non-traditional families, Latino pride, and women’s lives beyond the restrictions of wife and mother deserves praise.

Duration: About 1h40.

Notice: 16 years and over

“Daphne’s Dive” runs through March 20, 2022 at the Signature Theater, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Virginia 22206. Tickets can be purchased in line.

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