OLT explores the meaning of family -- and bonds made with booze -- in ‘Daphne’s Dive’

Tannia Montes as Daphne, left, and Ashley Thomas as Ruby in Olympia Little Theater’s production of “Daphne’s Dive.”
Tannia Montes as Daphne, left, and Ashley Thomas as Ruby in Olympia Little Theater’s production of “Daphne’s Dive.” Courtesy of Olympia Little Theater

“Daphne’s Dive,” opening Friday at Olympia Little Theatre, is about a bar whose regulars have become like family — a bar New York Times’ Charles Isherwood compared to that on the long-running sitcom “Cheers.”

Daphne’s is a place “where everybody knows you’re broke,” to quote the headline to Isherwood’s review of the 2016 play by Pulitzer winner Quiara Alegría Hudes.

The play covers 17 years at the Dive, a Philadelphia bar frequented by a colorful crowd considerably less well-heeled than the regulars at Cheers and dealing with considerably more serious problems.

“The play is about family,” director Toni Holm told The Olympian. “It’s about the family you’re born to and the family you choose. … Families are made by people who love and care about each other.”

As the show begins, the family at the dive gets a new member — young Ruby (Ashley Thomas), whom Daphne (Tannia Montes) takes in when her family leaves her behind.

The focus on the deeper meaning of family was a big part of the show’s appeal, Holm said, as was Hudes’ writing. By the time she was in her mid-30s, the playwright had won both a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (for 2012’s “Water by the Spoonful”) and a Tony Award for Best Musical (for 2008’s “In the Heights,” written with “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda).

“She’s a wonderful writer,” Holm said. “When I read that she was writing a new play, I stalked the play for two years until amateur rights became available.”

If there’s anyone else as excited as Holm about this show, it’s Montes.

“The announcement said the character’s age was between 30 and 50, and I’m 40, and she’s Latina and I am as well,” Montes told The Olympian. “I was very excited. I thought, ‘I totally have a spot.’ ”

The actress, who made her Olympia stage debut in OLT’s “A Christmas Story,” said this is the first time she’s been cast in a role meant for a Latina.

She sees a lot of herself in the character, too, including a similar penchant for sarcasm. A young friend in need of a home recently moved in with her, too. “We joke that I’m her Daphne and she’s my Ruby,” Montes said.

And she relates to the idea of the bar where everybody knows your name. She feels that way about both Hannah’s and Jake’s in Olympia.

In fact, when some of her fellow actors wanted to learn more about bars, they turned to Montes.

She spent an evening with Samantha Fairbairn, who plays Daphne’s sister Inez; Victor Velazquez, who plays Inez’s husband; and Randy Graham, who’s running the sound board.

“We shot pool at Oly Underground, and then we moved over to Hannah’s,” Montes said. “We sang karaoke and did a bunch of duets. … We formed some quick bonds of friendship.

“For me, it was a night at the bar, and for them, it was a character study,” she added. “We’re method actors now.”

‘Daphne’s Dive’

  • What: Olympia Little Theatre presents Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegría Hudes’ play about the kind of bar where everybody knows your name.
  • When: 7:25 p.m. Friday and Saturday plus June 13-15 and 20-22 and 1:55 p.m. Sunday plus June 16 and 23. The June 13 performance is a fundraiser for Casa de la Bondad, a Humacao, Puerto Rico, shelter for survivors of domestic violence.
  • Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia
  • Tickets: $9-$15
  • More information: 360-786-9484, olympialittletheater.org
  • Also: The play contains strong language and references to abuse and is recommended for ages 16 and older.