Let's play six degrees of separation!
Hamilton is the biggest musical probably ever. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote it. He also wrote 2007's In The Heights. That show was based on a book by Pulitzer winner Quiara Alegría Hudes. Hudes' second-to-latest play is Daphne's Dive. And Teatro Paraguas is the second-ever theater to produce it, after its Off-Broadway debut in 2016.
There you go: Six steps from the Santa Fe theater scene to what is probably the most successful theatrical production ever in the universe (Cats doesn't count).
The script for Daphne's Dive is amazing. I can say that without hesitation. It's a rending story of the intertwining lives of six bar regulars at a corner Boricua haunt in Philadelphia; the story covers 20-ish years of their lives and interactions, uncovers dark secrets and surprises us a few heartbreaking times. It really is a fantastic piece of writing.
But it's also an ambitious piece, and while Paraguas and many of its regular actors have floored me on numerous occasions, this one missed the mark. I think my hesitation with this production comes down to a single word with multiple applications: Volume.
Literally, I don't think this show was quite loud enough. Actors' projection was fine, and Paraguas is a small space, but we've all been to the kind of bar that this show depicts: all dark wood and sticky floors, all the same regulars with all the same Heinekens. They're places of din. There's street noise, there's TV noise (though, in the script, it does say Daphne's TV's speaker is out), there's people yelling on the street, chairs scraping on the floor, the dishwasher under the bar kicking on every 10 minutes on busy nights. If there's a pool table, there are balls clacking. A way to have worked in some noise to the show would have been another gift from the script: The upstairs tenant from Daphne's is a piano player who's always plinking out a tune. There was often some ambient piano accompaniment (provided handily by Jeff Tarnoff, live, from the sound booth), but I wanted it to be constant.
Pregnant pauses, then, often felt like the rest of the dead air; moments that could have provided reflection just kind of faded into the rest of the tame quiet. I wanted more chaos.
The lack of actual audible sound played into another tripping point: The actors' stakes seemed really low, and conversations that should have been varied and rollercoastery were instead mostly one conversational volume. The lack of variation in tone made intense emotional moments—of which there were a ton!—pack a pat rather than a punch.
There is also the question of the portrayal of a deeply rooted Puerto Rican community by actors not of Puerto Rican descent in a region that doesn't identify in any significant way as Puerto Rican. Unrelated to skin color, it was more a question of inflection, accents and use of conversational Spanish that became stumbling blocks. A few New Mexican accents were thick in this production, and the mindless shift from English to Spanish that makes natural code-switching sound fluid was often absent here. It felt like some actors were consciously searching for the Spanish words that showed up in their written lines.
All this being said, the bright spots in this show can be attributed to three standout performances, two of which came from Alix Hudson as Ruby and Cristina Vigil as Jenn. Ruby shows up in the first scene as an abused 11-year-old child, and grows up in the bar and among its flies to become its kid mascot. The progression of the show is based on Ruby's age (at the start of each scene, Hudson appears and announces her age, as to indicate the passing of time; it starts when she is 11, ends when she is nearly 30).
Vigil's Jenn is a joy to watch—a fiery radical activist in go-go boots and an American Flag bikini, talking about dancing at the LOVE statue and screaming about politics (her rallying cry is, "Peace! Liberty! Ecology! Democracy!"). Her character's timeline also serves up what I found to be the most tragic plot point in the show, but I won't spoil it. Hudson, too, is a competent and comfortable Ruby, though I do wonder why director Sheryl Bailey had her play every age; Hudson can present as young, so she pulled off 15-and-older Ruby, but finding an actual 11-year-old for the youngest iteration may have made more of an impact.
The chemistry between Hudson and Vigil is really nice—Ruby even says it herself: "You're the only one who doesn't walk on eggshells around me." Vigil might even be the only one in the show who doesn't walk on eggshells at all, stomping happily in platform heels instead. The two play almost like sisters throughout, and have the most natural and nuanced delivery.
Another notable portrayal was Roxanne Tapia as Inez, Daphne's wears-stilettos-and-has-perfect-hair-but-could-still-beat-you-up sister. However, both Inez and Daphne (played by Julia Gay) were actually a little too likeable—so, when they came out with some seriously problematic and downright messed-up views and character developments, I had a lot more trouble rolling with it. They seemed pretty cool to me, until suddenly they said something crazy (that ol' show-don't-tell argument). More dynamism between the good and bad within each of them would have really aided my understanding of their complicated relationships with themselves, their pasts and their family.
All in all, Daphne's Dive as a show may be one of my favorite scripts I've seen performed in recent memory. The story is intense but often light, full of both laughter and visceral pain. Paraguas, a true gem in our theater community, tried really hard. But this one may have been too large an undertaking.
7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday April 12-14;
4 pm Sunday April 15. Through April 22. $12-$20.
3205 Calle Marie,
Author's Note: Acting Out first published in SFR on April 5, 2017. It's been a great first year reviewing Santa Fe's incredible theatrical options, and thanks to the scene for embracing this column and its writer.