You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: ‘Daphne’s Dive’ by Pulitzer Winner Quiara Alegria Hudes

Vanessa Aspillaga, Carlos Gomez, KK Moggie, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Matt Saldivar; Gordon Joseph Weiss; Samira Wiley.

Fresh-faced Samira Wiley, a SAG winner as Poussey Washington in “Orange Is the New Black,” is a captivating young actor. (That smile is a traffic-stopper.) In “Daphne’s Dive,” the new play by Pulitzer Prize-winning scribe Quiara Alegria Hudes premiering at Signature Theater, Wiley plays a throwaway child who is adopted by the owner of a grungy but popular neighborhood bar in North Philadelphia.  Over the years, she becomes a kind of mascot for the local bar patrons and a symbol of the inherent goodness of their extended family. It’s a sweet play, but it doesn’t have much heft.

Set designer Donyale Werle draws on universal barroom imagery — scarred countertops, beat-up barstools, sticky bottles, and Christmas lights that never switch off — to capture that ineffable come-hither vibe of your favorite neighborhood watering hole. The word “comfortable” comes to mind.

This particular dive is owned by a sturdy, big-hearted but solitary woman named Daphne (Vanessa Aspillaga, looking grumpy) who treats her band of regular patrons like needy children. Pablo (a spirited Matt Saldivar) is an explosive artist who paints still-lifes of people’s garbage. Rey (Gordon Joseph Weiss, mellow) is a quiet older guy who wears ratty clothes but has enough money to commission Pablo to paint mermaids on his motorcycle. And Jenn (a fluttery KK Moggie) is a performance artist who organizes colorful street scenes for lefty political causes. Waving a banner celebrating “Peace. Liberty. Ecology. Democracy,” Jenn keeps exhorting her friends and neighbors to “Wake up!” and join her sit-ins, dance-ins and love-ins.

Although Daphne treats these barflies like family, her only actual relative is her sister Inez (the vivacious Daphne Rubin-Vega), a vivid personality who glories in both her humble Puerto Rican roots and her materialist tastes. She’ll proudly move to an upscale part of town, but plant a guiro vine (“more Puerto Rican than a crucifix in the rearview”) on the lawn.

Her husband, Acosta (Carlos Gomez, down-to-earth and very likeable), is a successful businessman. No sob story is too preposterous to win his favors, and he’s very much at home manning a barstool in his sister-in-law’s bar, generously spreading his wealth around the neighborhood.

Ruby, the young girl Wiley plays with singular intelligence and feeling, drops into this cozy scene at the age of eleven, after escaping from Social Services when the cops come to haul her parents off to jail. Everyone falls in love with Ruby, whose absolute innocence, Hudes intimates, will cleanse their souls and change their lives.

But the patrons of Daphne’s Dive are decent folks to begin with, the sort of people who don’t hesitate to extend a helping hand to members of their tight community. So that plot line is a non-starter.

Unfortunately, there are no other plot lines. Unlike the more ambitious plays in the trilogy that contains Hudes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “Water by the Spoonful” and turns on the experiences of a young soldier named Elliott, the wellbeing of this neighborhood is not inextricably bound up in Ruby’s fate. More often than not, Daphne’s friends seem to detach themselves from the crazy old world. (“Outside those doors, chaos, insanity.”)

Hudes writes juicy dialogue for these colorful characters. That Inez, for one, has some mouth on her (“Who says I’m going to hell for wearing a diaphragm?”), and Rubin-Vega delivers her explosive lines with gusto. Wiley’s wide-eyed Ruby is also a joy to watch as she matures in grace and intelligence. (“What’s a diaphragm?”)

But without a plot or something of consequence at stake, the play slips into the conventional vein of those static ensemble pieces set in diners, barbershops, hair salons, and bars. Not even director Thomas Kail, who brought such joyful inventiveness to “Hamilton” and “In the Heights,” manages to pump some life into that static genre format. Barroom plays are fun to visit, but you don’t really want to live there.

Popular on Variety

Off Broadway Review: 'Daphne's Dive' by Pulitzer Winner Quiara Alegria Hudes

Signature Theater; 199 seats; $65 top. Opened May 16, 2016. Reviewed May 11. Running time: ONE HOUR, 40 MIN.

Production: A Signature Theater production of a play in one act by Quiara Alegria Hudes.

Creative: Directed by Thomas Kail. Set, Donyale Werle; costumes, Toni-Leslie James; lighting, Betsy Adams; sound, Nevin Steinberg; music, Michel Camilo; production stage manager, Lori Ann Zepp.

Cast: Vanessa Aspillaga, Carlos Gomez, KK Moggie, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Matt Saldivar; Gordon Joseph Weiss; Samira Wiley.

More Legit

  • The Inheritance review

    Broadway Review: 'The Inheritance'

    The real hero of “The Inheritance,” Matthew Lopez’s thoughtful, moving and painfully funny play, is E.M. Forster, the celebrated English author of “Howards End,” “A Room with a View,” “A Passage to India,” and “Maurice,” that last a gay-themed novel published after his death in 1970. It’s quite the literary thrill to find the great [...]

  • Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works

    Stephen Sondheim's 'Follies' in the Works as a Movie From Heyday, BBC Films

    David Heyman’s Heyday Films, whose credits include “Gravity,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Marriage Story” and the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts franchises, and BBC Films have secured the film rights to Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman’s musical “Follies.” “Follies” will be adapted for the screen and directed by Dominic Cooke, a four-time Olivier [...]

  • Tina Turner The Musical

    How 'Tina: The Tina Turner Musical' Tells the Icon's Traumatic Story

    It wasn’t the response Tali Pelman had hoped to receive. The group creative managing director of Stage Entertainment had traveled to Küsnacht, Switzerland, with one goal in mind: Convince Tina Turner that her life could be the stuff of a successful stage musical. “We walked in the door,” Pelman remembers. “Tina was already there, and she greeted [...]

  • Ben McKenzie

    'Gotham' Star Ben McKenzie to Make Broadway Debut in 'Grand Horizons'

    “Gotham” star Ben McKenzie will make his Broadway debut in Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons.” He joins a cast that includes Oscar nominees Jane Alexander (“Kramer vs. Kramer,” “The Great White Hope”) and James Cromwell (“Babe,” “L.A. Confidential”). The show has a strictly limited 10-week run and begins previews on Dec. 23, 2019, before officially opening [...]

  • The Great Society review

    Listen: Brian Cox on 'Succession,' Shakespeare, and the Crisis We're In

    Brian Cox is having a pop-culture moment with “Succession,” the buzzy HBO series in which he stars. But he’s also an accomplished theater actor with plenty of experience doing Shakespeare — and it serves him well in both “Succession” and in his current Broadway show, “The Great Society.” Listen to this week’s podcast below: Cox [...]

  • Scooby Doo Ella Louise Allaire Martin

    Scooby-Doo Live Theater Tour Is Goofy Dane's Latest Adventure

    From its 1969 start as a Saturday morning kids mystery cartoon series “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” starring its titular, talking Great Dane and his four teenaged friends, has made adventure its staple. Once Hanna-Barbera’s successor, Warner Bros. Animation, took the leash, Scooby and company became a comic book, a board game, a series of video [...]

  • Tootsie Santino Fontana

    'Tootsie' Ending Broadway Run in January

    “Tootsie,” the critically acclaimed musical adaptation of the 1982 classic film comedy, will play its final Broadway performance on Jan. 5, 2020. When it wraps up its run, the show will have logged 293 regular and 25 preview performances at the cavernous Marquis Theatre, where it sometimes labored to draw big crowds. Last week, “Tootsie” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content