After one of the longest shutdowns of the American stage, the South Camden Theatre Company and Waterfront South Theatre in Camden, NJ, reopened with the staging of the regional premiere of “Daphne’s Dive.”
The 2017 work, written by Quiara Alegrîa Hudes, follows six patrons at a cheap corner bar in North Philadelphia (which happens to be Hudes’ hometown). The drama tracks bar owner Daphne and her lively, eclectic regulars over the course of 17 years as they drink to art, politics, and life, turning their collective memories into a vivacious mythology. Some tales that they’d rather forget, however, keep resurfacing.
Director Joel Guerrero was excited to tell a story centered on Latinos that was written by a Latina. The opportunity to work on one of Hudes’ plays has always been a personal desire of his.
“She's such a wonderful storyteller who tells, in my opinion, true stories that really capture the Latin American lifestyle, Latin American family life,” says Guerrero.
What drew him to this piece, he adds, “is being able to tell one of those stories in such a small, intimate space really is what locked me into the piece. My goal was to stay true to the story while representing the vast spectrum of our Latin culture.”
Hudes is the Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist of “Water by the Spoonful” (produced by SCTC in 2016) and the author of a memoir, “My Broken Language.” She’s also a lyricist best known for writing the book for the Tony Award-winning stage musical “In the Heights,” and the screenplay for the film adaptation, with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
After reading the script for “Daphne’s Dive,” Guerrero says he found so many nuances that really spoke to him.
“The whole idea of chosen family (versus a family you are born into). Some people have no choice but to choose people to be their family, if their blood family doesn't accept their lifestyle or doesn't accept who they are,” he explains.
Guerrero, who is originally from San Angelo, Texas and is of Mexican descent, says he also resonated with a story about Latinos living in north Philadelphia in the ‘90s, which is such a crucial part of the (neighborhood’s) history.
“So, I really wanted to stay true to the time period and the culture of that neighborhood.”
Guerrero hopes that theatergoers see the diversity of the Latin community of Philadelphia through “Daphne’s Dive.”
“For me, in my experience of being a Mexican American actor and director, I've been told, ‘Well, you don't act Mexican, you don't act Latino.’ Maybe not, because I don't play into the stereotypic role. So, what I hope they see in this (play) is that Latin lives cut across many skin tones, many lifestyles, many cultures, and many countries.”
However, he points out, this story does not just speak to the Latinx household, it also speaks to all people.
“I'm hoping that by creating this window into this small, little bar to see what these individuals are doing to change the face of Philadelphia and America that people will appreciate and acknowledge Latin life and Latin culture.”
In general, “the multicultural side of Philadelphia is alive. And there's stories out there that have yet to be told. This is just the tip of the iceberg for some of the greatest stories available. If people will just listen, watch, and learn,” Guerrero says.
The SCTC’s production of “Daphne’s Dive” happens to have been playing during National Hispanic Heritage Month, a period from September 15 to October 15 that recognizes the culture, history, influence, and contributions of Hispanic Americans to the United States.
“Mexican, Hispanic, and Latinx culture and lives have been such a huge part of what we consider American culture,” Guerrero says. “We just need to learn to incorporate them as well into the fold of the American story.”
A year and a half after the coronavirus pandemic caused theatres to lock their doors, the cast and crew were delighted to be able to perform again in front of a live audience.
“It was like being an elementary school kid back on the playground for the first time—getting to play together and making new friends,” adds Guerrero.
The company notes that each ticket purchase supports their actors, directors, stage managers, artists, and beautiful home, The Waterfront South Theatre, Camden’s first theatre built in more than 100 years. It also promises a season of diverse and inclusive American stories.
“I believe it is critical for us to know and understand the diversity of our home in Camden. We always strive to represent the diverse culture of people who live and work in Camden as well as those from all across the greater Delaware Valley,” says SCTC president Robert Bingaman
“Having once lived in Camden for more than 10 years and worked with the theatre company since 2008, I am very proud of the work our artistic directors have chosen for our stage,” he adds. “We all understand the importance of choosing diverse shows, directors and actors to be on our stage. We’ve tried to do this each season since coming to the Waterfront South Theatre.”
Bingaman also points that the company’s first two shows of this season were produced as video productions, and it took real effort to produce them under lock-down.
“Being back on stage with such a diverse cast in ‘Daphne’s Dive’ has been an absolute delight. Finishing our season with Tarell Alvin McCraney’s ‘The Brothers Size’ will be the icing on the cake of such an incredible season of shows,” he says.
SCTC is also pleased to welcome a new Artistic, Director, Dawn Varava, for its 2022 season. Two of the productions for next season, “Terminus” and “A Good Farmer,” are shows that were originally planned for 2020.
Editor’s note: Unfortunately, SCTC’s production of “Daphne’s Dive” came to an early end. Performances for September 24-26 were canceled due to a COVID-19 exposure for one of the cast members.