The Pershing Square Signature Center
The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre
480 West 42nd St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 12, $25 through June 5, $30-85 after
Despite Donyale Werle’s wonderfully close, intimate set, Quiara Alegría Hudes’s Daphne’s Dive turns out to be a surprisingly cold and distant play. The story takes place in a North Philly bar over the course of seventeen years, beginning in 1994, when eleven-year-old Ruby (Orange Is the New Black’s Samira Wiley) literally falls into the lives of bar owner Daphne (Vanessa Aspillaga) and her small group of regulars: her fashionable older sister, Inez (Daphne Rubin-Vega); Inez’s husband, local businessman and emerging politician Acosta (Carlos Gomez); painter Pablo (Matt Saldivar); motorcycle wanderer Rey (Gordon Joseph Weiss); and bikini-clad activist Jenn (K. K. Moggie), inspired by real-life radical performance artist Kathy Change. The set is open on two sides, where the audience sits right on the edges, as if hanging out on the fringes of the small tavern. Each scene of the hundred-minute play begins with a spotlight on Ruby, who announces her age in order to identify how much time has passed; some things change, and some things don’t, but not enough of the story feels natural or authentic. Hudes, who won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Water by the Spoonful, the second play in her Iraq war trilogy (which began with Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue and concluded with The Happiest Song Plays Last), and was nominated for a Tony for her book for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, can’t quite decide where Daphne’s Dive belongs in the canon of works set in bars, the characters hovering indeterminably somewhere between the lovable oddballs of Cheers and the luckless losers of The Iceman Cometh. You desperately want to become more involved in these characters’ lives, but they are never fully fleshed out by Hudes and director Thomas Kail, who has previously directed such wide-ranging productions as In the Heights, Lombardi, Dry Powder, and this little show called Hamilton. The music, however, by Grammy-winning pianist and composer Michel Camilo, is exceptional, nearly worth the price of admission all by itself. Daphne’s Dive is the first of three world premieres Hudes will write for the Signature Theatre in the next five years as part of the Residency Five program.