One way to gauge something’s cultural significance is by how many different names it has. Take a bar, which is also called a saloon, gin mill, lounge, tavern, pub, taproom and a watering hole, to name a few. Now consider the dentist’s office. Any other names come to mind?
This winter, you can experience a place’s cultural impact first-hand with “Daphne’s Dive,” a vibrant, life on-the-rocks play set in a bar. Written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of “Water by the Spoonful” and “In the Heights,” the production runs at Arlington’s Signature Theatre February 1-March 20.
“Daphne’s Dive” covers seventeen years, from 1994 to 2011, in the lives of six regulars of a neighborhood bar in North Philly. Native Washingtonian Jyline Carranza stars as Ruby, a young girl who arrives at Daphne’s bar under tragic circumstances.
“The show is about this group of friends who choose to become a family and raise Ruby,” Carranza shares. “These characters evolve and grow over time. They learn things about each other. And [the audience] gets to sit and watch as life happens.”
Although her already-impressive résumé includes “Quixote Nuevo” at Round House, “Miss You Like Hell” at Olney and “Be More Chill” at Monumental Theatre Company, Carranza finds much in common with her character, a young woman finding her place in a new community.
For Carranza, that community is professional D.C. theatre, which she knows well thanks to her time at The Catholic University of America.
“I watched a lot of shows in college because I wanted to — but also because I had to write papers on them,” Carranza says with a laugh. “I’ve seen a lot of [the cast] perform. A lot of them know each other, but I only know them from afar. I saw Rayanne [Gonzales, playing Daphne] in ‘In the Heights’ and in ‘Matilda the Musical’ at Olney. I remember thinking, ‘That person looks like me. She’s Latina. That’s amazing.’ I waited for her at the stage door and introduced myself: ‘Hi, Rayanne. You’re great in the show.’”
Theatre, D.C. and family have long been joined for Carranza.
“In middle school I was really into Idina Menzel and my mom heard on the radio she was doing ‘If/Then’ at the National. She saved up enough to get us tickets. We went to see the show and I thought, ‘Oh my God, there’s theatre like this in D.C.? That’s insane.’ Because D.C. was always just a place that I grew up. That changed everything for me. Absolutely.”
Carranza beams while talking about her parents coming to see her on stage now, particularly in shows that portray Latinx culture.
“I think my mom is really proud that I’m doing this, representing the people I grew up with and the people who look and speak like me,” Carranza says, noting D.C. theaters have gotten better at producing more diverse stories — though there’s always room to grow.
Now in the rehearsal room for “Daphne’s Dive,” Carranza is eager to learn from her castmates, including Jonathan Atkinson, Yesenia Iglesias, Quynh-Mu Luu, Jefferson A. Russell and James Whalen.
“I feel welcomed. They’ve been super helpful in guiding me and I’m learning more about my character through them. Every time I watch them I feel like I’m back at school. Sometimes Rayanne will ask me a question about Ruby that I haven’t thought about yet.”
Describing her process further, Carranza says, “I’m learning a lot about how to evolve Ruby. [She] goes from ages 11 to 15, 20 to 25, then to 29. It’s been fun distinguishing those ages, but also hard because Ruby has had a hard life. I feel grateful I get to share this story about a girl and how she grows up and changes. Because we’ve all changed, especially in the past two years. And that’s what “Daphne’s Dive” is about. Life can be hard, and when you have those few people who you really care about, who love you, it just keeps you going.”
“Daphne’s Dive” runs at Signature Theatre from February 1 to March 20. For tickets and more information, click here.
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