“I think this is the playwright,” my husband whispers, nodding over his right shoulder.
I look over. I look at the digital playbill scrolling as part of Urbanite’s pre-show. It is indeed Hannah Benitez. To be polite, I ask her; she admits she is. We make small talk — I learn she’s Jewish and from Miami. She learns that I am incapable of posting her photo on Instagram properly (damn you, rotation).
This matters (well, not the Instagram part), because for a Jewish Cuban American to write convincingly about lesbian Catholics in Ireland takes more than a few Google searches, I’d assume. As I watch her speak to the man next to her, their heads close as they whisper, I have another thought: Hannah Benitez might not even be a lesbian.
Nevertheless, Dike — still in development in its first-ever full production at Urbanite Theatre (it enjoyed a workshop at GableStage, then a staged reading at New York Theater Workshop) — hits the right notes, and Tampa Bay and Sarasota theatergoers should jump at the chance to see it. It’s not perfect — there’s a “big reveal” at the end of the first act that comes not at all as a surprise — but it’s exceptionally enjoyable.
By and large, Urbanite has cast four equally matched women — sisters, classmates and lovers, in varying iterations — although, truth be told, Jen Diaz as Charlotte was the most “in the skin” of her character. Dike opens with an understated yet engaging light effect, and the mostly simple set has a few nuances that make it interesting. It does what it should, and more (also, they cook maduros onstage, which is unfair to the audience in a small house because those sweet plantains are like crack to me), and the two hours slip by in a minute.
Dike revolves around religion and relationships (and sister relationships especially), and if at times you find yourself wishing the script would ask harder questions, at other times you sit and remind yourself that in parts of America —and the world — these are the hard questions. It’s a play without a hitch, meaning it looks good, the actresses are on point, and you can lose yourself in the production, which is a gift not given at every play I’ve seen this past year. But that also means I have more time to think about the story, because, while the production is everything you come to expect from Urbanite, I’m unclear why they chose this play.
See, Urbanite has a reputation for producing some of the most thought-provoking shows in the area, and I’m not entirely certain this qualifies as edgy. Yes, there are lesbians, both out and possibly latent. Yes, there’s a sex scene that absolutely riveted more than one of the men in the audience (and what a tremendous sex scene it is, wrapped with new love and passion and internal cock-blocking). But in Tampa Bay, this isn’t exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff, no matter how well done.
The question, then, is why is this play worth seeing and why did Urbanite choose to mount this production?
You need to go see Dike because it’s a damn fine show. As for why Urbanite produced it? Despite my thinking of them as edgy and provocative, not every show they do there carries that stamp. Honestly, that’s a delight. Think about it: How many Jody Picoult books can your read and how many M. Night Shyamalan movies can you watch before you’re simply a wrung-out washcloth of a person, unable to take any more and begging for a little Danielle Steele and John Hughes?
But I did ask Brendan Ragan, Urbanite’s co-artistic director, as to the motivation. Simply put, the company felt the conversation was one worth having. I can’t disagree. While I live in a blue dot — neither Gulfport, where I live, nor Ybor City, where I work, gets accused of homophobia much — our president, his followers and the most recent Florida elections remind me how much of an echo chamber I’ve created in my life.
While no one’s going up to a lesbian at Salty’s and saying they’re praying for their soul, there’s no doubt it’s happening somewhere in America. While there aren’t many closeted gay people in my life, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any anywhere else.
And that’s the beauty of this show: For us in Tampa Bay, we’re seeing an exceptional production of what we might dare to call a topic of passing consequence. But the while it might not be our reality, that reality is out there, looming on the horizon.
Dike is a clarion call for us to respect and understand that reality.
Cathy Salustri is the arts + entertainment editor for Creative Loafing. Contact Cathy Salustri here.