Do we speak aloud our history? Or, do we remain silent? Do we acknowledge our traumas? Or, do we avoid our ACE’s (adverse childhood experiences)? Do we challenge our evil? Or, do we avoid confrontation? Do we confine ourselves to our birth and culture? Or, do we chose our family and create an new society? And, where do we find our voice or discretion?
Let’s pour a drink, serve up a meal, while we deliberate these points. If so, we must be present. We must go out. We must meet each other. What better place to do all this than Daphne’s Dive.
After two years of sputtering stops and stops of live theatre, we again venture out to the D.C. area for a weekend of theatre. Our first stop, after the Thai restaurant in Shirlington, VA (aka a neighborhood in Arlington, VA across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.) was Signature Theatre. The show was Daphne’s Dive, by Quiara Alegria Hudes.
Daphne (Rayanne Gonzoles) is a Puerto Rican immigrant to an neighborhood in Philadelphia, PA. To support herself, she owns and runs a neighborhood bar, her ”dive”. For the show, it is populated by a range of seemingly random patrons for the various ethnicities and economic backgrounds in the neighborhood.
Pablo (Johnathan Atkinson) is an artist who collects and inspects trash as a source of inspiration about the beauty in the ugliness of what people ”throw out”. Rey (Jefferson A Russell) is a biker who can build anything but wants to be paid and spend cash every day with only evidence of his existence being the creations he made that day. Jen (Quynh-My Luu) is an activist who does performance art to protest complacency of people to injustice, advocating peace, freedom, equity, and democracy (as in participating in the political process). Inez (Yesenia Inglesia) is Daphne’s older sister, wiser, more ambitious. Acosta (James Whalen) is one of Daphne’s patrons who marries Inez in a romance of opposites-attract. He is rebuilding the neighborhood, literally creating businesses, jobs, and housing. He will morph into the society building of politics. Ruby (Jyline Carranza) is a girl in the neighborhood whom Daphne will adopt and rear from age 11.
Age and time are key themes of this play. The themes are ageless. The time is the 1980’s to 2000’s. While each character ages, the transformation is most evident in Ruby. The playwright accentuates this by having Ruby spotlit at the beginning of each scene, announcing ”I am 11”, ”I am 15” up to ”I am 29” Of course, in our society that takes her from the tweens through adolescence and into adulthood. She survives, with the help of this family-of-choice-not-blood, her high school years. And, as often happens with immigrant societies, she is the first-generation to go to college. Her choice of studies and careers is one in which she attempts to right the wrongs of her ACE’s. By the end of the play, she is practicing her social-work behind the bar at Daphne’s and Rube’s Dive.
With all this drama, and related emotion upheavals, joyous and painful, do we speak, or do we watch? Does Pablo’s art of trash allow us to see what we discard from our lives, like Rube literally being tossed out by her parents? Does Ray’s live-for-today risk-taking inspire us to do more than accumulate stuff? Does Jen’s stripped down protests do more than amuse and embarrass us, or prompt us to truly be free-willed actors, like Daphne taking in Ruby at age 11? Does Inez’s insistence that naming those sins that victimize us, confession we might say, frees us from the chains of silence? Does Acosta’s advancement of ambitions allow him to make his neighborhood a better place, rather than force him into compromises that his financial backers press on him? Does Ruby’s acceptance of the burden of rearing someone else’s child make up for her own emotional, physical, and family trauma?
Life, like a play, happens in real time in a real place. That reality can be scripted, but what happens in the time and place, often we cannot predict.
As we walked into the theatre, up the aisle (you entered the seating area by waling ”through” the bar, great design effect to bring us ”into” the play), to take our seats, the couple in the row in front of us called out ”Is that Lind and Oscar!” To our surprise it turned out to be a former co-worker whom we have exchanged Christmas cards with, but not seen for 20 year. What a time and place. Great to have re-connected. Next time we’ll all meet at the Thai restaurant before the show.