Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Daphne's Dive makes five stops along its chronological journey, each introduced by a girl named Ruby. Little Ruby is taken under the wing of the bar's owner and bartender, the eponymous Daphne, when her family shatters into pieces one night. Daphne has moved to Philadelphia with her sister Inez from Puerto Rico and has staked herself to the American dream, albeit one with down-to-earth aspirations. As with other plays of this genre (and in a sense this play feels more like Bus Stop to me than one of that "let me sit on this bar stool and tell you a story" dramatic offerings), things do happen: a girl grows up, dealing with her past, while being buffeted by troubling aspects of her present; a marriage crumbles; an artist gets an important break; and a political rebel makes a statement about her values in a powerfully deadly manner. Each of the characters in the play is on a journey and it is up to the actors who flesh out those characters to find ways to follow their trajectories, while interacting convincingly with the life-paths of all the other folks around them.
And these aren't just fellow travelers. Daphne's Dive isn't just a neighborhood bar. It's a living room, it's the hearth, it's the big, hungry dining room table in these people's lives.
Alix Hudson gives us Ruby, first seen at age elevenfrightened but street snottyand takes us through all the phases of her maturation into a young woman who holds to strong values while giving in at times to disillusionment and cynicism. I enjoyed watching the ways in which Alix brings us a completely different Ruby in each of our visits, never for a moment forgetting that this is a girl-cum-woman who has never stayed in one emotional place for very long. As her adoptive mother Daphne, Julia Gay knows when to seize the stage and hold court as do the bartenders of that familiar theatrical archetype, and when to step back and allow her fellow dive denizens to take voice and take flight.
Cristina Vigil's windmill-tilter Jenn demonstrates a firecracker-ignited desire for political justice, while showing in quieter moments her character's inner vulnerability. Jules Rubin gives us the artist Pablo, whose throwaway lines are requisitely delivered through an interpretation of addle-brained wisdom that Rubin is successful in punching through in the end: the man who cares about broken humanity as much as he cares about the components of his broken trash art.
It's difficult for me to know if Roxanne Tapia's Inez, sister of Daphne, is as scheming and social-ladder clambering as the playwright wishes us to see her, for Tapia would have trouble in this playwright's mind playing the bride of Satan, since a humanizing warmth and spirit comes through in every performance of hers I've seen. Playing Inez's husband, the politically ambitious Acosta, James Chavez is given not terribly much to work with, except in those moments in which Chavez works his own warmthTapia styleinto his characterization. I especially liked the physical interaction between these two when they danced and opened their hearts to one another without words.
This play was a first for me: the chance to see Santa Fe theater veteran Argos MacCallum on the stage. To MacCallum's character as the "good ol' guy" witness and observer has been tossed some of the play's funniest lines and he delivers them without taking even a small bite out of the scenery, which makes his character's moments all the more real and special.
Director Sheryl Bailey has no easy task taking these disparate scenes, with a fairly ragged through-line, and threading them together with continuative logic (there's a flashback in the end which may not have been necessary), but she certainly knows how to make special moments pop and tug at the heartstrings. I was especially moved by a scene late in the first act in which Daphne and Jenn, left alone, allow themselves to fully open up to one another and unveil pain from their own life journeys, which is usually kept under lock and key.
The lighting design by Jeff Tarnoff is emotionally focused and unintrusive, and Tarnoff shows off another of his talents by offering up live piano accompaniment to the storymuch like the piano player in an old western embellishing his saloon with audio verisimilitude. I really liked MacCallum's set, as wellnot too cluttered but also not lazily under-accoutered. My quibble here would be not moving the only scene which doesn't take place in Daphne's Divea gallery where Pablo has just had his own showout of the physical space in the bar. It might have been better delineated by taking it into limbo downstage and setting it off through lighting. It was a little confusing when the gallery pops up at one end of the bar.
My suggestion to the fine actors in this play, as the show moves through its run, is to take moments, whenever possible, to limber into their roles, the performances of which still feel a little stiff and overly cautious. This is a play that allows you to take risks, just as these characters take risks in their own lives. It's the kind of play that actors will grow into over time, but I suggest letting those characters have their importunate way right now. The template is there, both in Jenn's fiery personality and in the frightening irony of her personal denouement. Hudes has given us a play that, in Clifford Odets fashion, "awakes and sings." Raise your voices and the temperature of your passion!
Daphne's Dive, through April 22, 2018, at Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie B, Santa Fe NM. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sundays at 4:00. Information and tickets at www.teatroparaguas.org or 505-424-1601. The running time is just under two hours, including one intermission.