Thursday, May 19, 2016

Daphne's Dive **

The barroom drama is not a genre that I have ever had an affinity for. Nothing about Quiara Algeria Hudes’s latest play at Signature Theatre has changed my opinion, although I will grant that, unlike some, it at least avoids focusing on a group of alcoholics. Set in the eponymous North Philly bar over an 18-year period, the play introduces us to the strangely reticent bar owner Daphne (Vanessa Aspillaga) and her adopted daughter Ruby (Samira Wiley), whom she rescued from an abusive family when Ruby was 11. We also meet Inez (Daphne Rubin-Vega). Daphne’s older sister who has married Acosta (Carlos Gomez), a wealthy entrepreneur from the hood, and moved to a Main Line suburb. Three denizens of the bar who all look to Acosta for favors are Pablo (Matt Saldivar), an artist who likes to paint garbage; Rey (Gordon Joseph Weiss), a reluctant day laborer who only works enough to support his beloved motorcycle; and Jenn (KK Moggie), a seemingly free-spirited political activist/performance artist. In six scenes that take Ruby from age 11 to 29 (and back again), we follow the changes in these characters over the years. Unfortunately, most of their stories are not that compelling and Hudes does not take us very deeply into their motivation. If I didn’t already know that the playwright had won a Pulitzer Prize (for her play “Water by the Spoonful”), I would not have guessed it from the present work. The actors are fine, the set (by Donyale Werle) is evocative, the costumes (by Toni-Leslie James) are appropriate, the direction (by Thomas Kail) is assured, but somehow, for me at least, the payoff was meager. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes; no intermission. NOTE: Avoid row A because of a high stage.

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