MOM THEATRE BLOGGER: Daphne’s Dive: Show Review by Robin Gorman Newman

Photo by Joan Marcus

Photo by Joan Marcus

I’m a long time fan of Daphne Rubin-Vega, since her Broadway debut rockstar performance in the legendary musical Rent.  So, when I heard she was in Daphne’s Dive (no relation to Vega herself), it became a must see.  Added to the impressive roster of this show is Thomas Kail, director, Hamilton, and the Pulitzer Prize-winner playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes who penned the book for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway musical In The Heights.

Rubin-Vega, as the showy married sister of Daphne, never ceases to hold your attention, with charisma and rhythm to spare, in this drama where unlikely bar buddies connect over cheap booze and broken dreams….or in the chase of them.

We meet an aging motorcyclist, a garbage-collecting struggling artist, a hungry politician and his glam wife, a performance artist/exhibitionist/demonstrator, a young adoptee from a bad home, all of whom congregate under the seedy roof and open arms of a bar owner. Attempting to heal her scars, both physically and emotionally, via an ever-present aloe vera plant and the adoption of Ruby, Daphne is the single Puerto Rican bar den keeper and the North Philly neighborhood saviour of lost souls.

Hudes is adept at writing characters with angst and considerable back story, but here, the level of detail is almost too much and not essential.  Clearly, Ruby is the one with the most at stake, and it’s her story we are most drawn to, with others evolving over the years, in part because of her.  Daphne makes the heartfelt decision to fight for custody of her after Ruby leaps out the window from her apartment to bail from a raid on her troubled family led by social services.  Even at that tender age, she shows bravery and spunk, and we can see why Daphne would take her under her wing.  Over time we come to learn what they really mean to each other, though it’s not until the final flashback scene, that their commitment really rings home.

Heavy themes such as infidelity, sexuality, grief and incest abound, yet in the 100 minute production (no intermission), the episodic pace grows a bit wearisome, with a stagnant, though realistic looking set (staged appealingly in the round) and a plot line with little intrigue.

The cast of seven impresses, particularly Samira Wiley who goes from 11, when we first to meet her, to a 20-something young woman poised to take the helms of the bar, herself, where she has grown up.  Wiley nails her depth and enthusiasm and gratitude for the life and the friendships she as accrued, despite the dire circumstances that led her to rely on them.  With her bright eyes and smile and transformative body language as she matures, she is someone to watch.

If you’re expecting a variation of Cheers (television fame), this is not the play for you.  But, it does present a tender, evocative slice of life that is both humbling and empowering in terms of depicting the power of camaraderie and perseverance, no matter your roots.


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