The character Ruby (played with enormous depth and insight by Samira Wiley) announces the passing of the years by beginning each scene revealing her age which ranges from eleven to twenty-nine. She transforms from an abused, sullen girl to a self-assured woman, guided by adopted mom Daphne (a quietly luminous Vanessa Aspillaga).
Daphne, the quiet, but intense, emotional center of the play, proudly owns the eponymous bar, alternately tolerating and helping her bar’s habitués who include painter Pablo (handsome, passionate Matt Saldivar) who specializes in transforming garbage into art; scraggly-faced biker and former construction worker Rey (Gordon Joseph Weiss who makes the most of his relatively few lines); Jenn (an absurdly wonderful KK Moggie), a performance artist who is fervently, if not obsessively, involved in political protest; Inez, Daphne’s sister (Daphne Rubin-Vega who is, perhaps, a bit over-the-top, but passionate) whose desire for money and social standing drives her every move; and Acosta (Carlos Gomez who finds the humanity in this slightly sleazy striver), Inez’s husband who has political ambitions which he ultimately achieves through hard work and connections.
Watching these characters morph into their final versions is what Daphne’s Dive is about. Some get richer playing the system; one finds professional success; one dies horribly; and one hardly gets off his butt—but it’s always interesting. Ms. Hudes’ writing expertly illuminates how they help each other, open their hearts to each other, keep secrets from each other and love and hurt each other in equal measure.
Thomas Kail, fresh off that juggernaut Hamilton, adopts an uncharacteristic leisurely pace for this play, allowing the actors to luxuriate and interact unhurriedly.
He is helped by Donyale Werle’s realistic set, complete with shelves of liquor, neon lights, leatherette stools and some indications of the march of time. Toni-Leslie James’ costumes are character and period perfect, in particular her outfits for the exuberant Jenn. Betsy Adams’ lighting both supports the often changing moods and complements the set and costumes. The original music is by Michel Camino.
Daphne’s Dive (through June 12, 2016)
The Pershing Square Signature Center
Signature Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street at 10th Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-399-8113 or visit http://www.signaturetheatre.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes, no intermission