We gave it a B-
You’ll rarely hear a theater critic say a show should be longer. Our favorite words are probably 90 minutes, no intermission. But Daphne’s Dive — Quiara Alegría Hudes’ drama premiering at Off Broadway’s Pershing Square Signature Center — could use a little more length and a lot more exposition.
The denizens of Daphne’s Dive, a cash-only shot-and-a-beer bar in North Philly — the kind of place where Christmas lights hang year-round, where something (the coffee pot, the toilet, the speaker on the television) is always busted — are a colorful lot: the tough-talking Daphne (Vanessa Aspillaga), for whom the bar is as much a place to hide as a source of income; her suburban-transplant sister, Inez (Daphne Rubin-Vega); Inez’s ambitious entrepreneur husband, Acosta (Carlos Gomez); interpretive dancer/activist/squatter Jenn (KK Moggie); painter Pablo (Matt Saldivar), who finds inspiration in the trash; and day laborer Rey (Gordon Joseph Weiss), who loves nothing more than his motorcycle and the open road. Between Jenn’s run-ins with the cops and Inez’s issues with her new neighbors — “They know and I know what’s under it all: ‘Porta Rickins’ bought the best house in the zip code. Sorry, Charlie! Eat it up, Haverford!” — there’s plenty of fodder for a boozy barroom drama. And that’s just the start of the first scene: Hudes hasn’t even dropped 11-year-old neighbor Ruby (Orange is the New Black’s Samira Wiley) into the mix yet.
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Using Ruby as a guidepost — the play moves from scene to scene as she grows from 11 to 15, to 20, to 25, to 29 — Hudes and director Thomas Kail (Hamilton, Fox’s Grease: Live) tackle a big chunk of time in 100 intermissionless minutes. But there are stories that beg to be told, and details that demand to be filled in. Jenn apparently had a profound influence on Ruby, or “Ruby Slippers” as she sweetly nicknamed the teen. But how? They share only one brief scene. And when did Daphne become so emotionally closed-off? As Rey describes her in one of Hudes’ most wonderfully lyrical moments: “Warmest smile in the city but a heart on the rocks.”
Hudes — whose works include the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning Water by the Spoonful and the libretto for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony-winning musical In the Heights — has created a group of characters that most anyone would want to share a drink with. One round just isn’t enough. B-