I sprung to my feet at the end of ArtsEmerson’s WET: A DACAmented Journey. I watched a Tupac-loving teenage girl, a Spanglish-speaking mother, a Guatemalan consulate worker, and many more tell one story of what it means to be an undocumented American. Oh, and WET is a one-man show.
The play, written and performed by Alex Alpharaoh, features aspects of Alpharaoh’s life as an undocumented person, including his childhood, his trip to Guatemala to visit his dying grandfather, and his life as a father. He brings characters to life in first-person and seamlessly weaves poetry and narration into the narrative.
Before WET, I never became so engrossed in a one-man show. WET transitions from comical moments, like a talk about Alpharaoh’s often mispronounced name, to heart-wrenching matters, like Alpharaoh’s abused mother. The fast pacing flipped my emotions and glued my eyes to the stage.
Every moment Alpharaoh visits in his life felt necessary. The show’s cadence accelerated during humorous moments and froze during somber ones so naturally I thought the show ended in a minute.
My heart lurched when Alpharaoh placed his hands behind his head, one after the other, while speaking as a police officer. The red and blue lighting conveyed his arrest more effectively and heartbreakingly than any grandiose set could. At other times I burst out laughing, like when he triumphantly told off a petty Guatemalan consulate employee.
His portrayals never seemed unauthentic—even during the moments he spoke as one character but moved as another. For instance, his voice assumed a humorously higher pitch when portraying his daughter; yet, I never felt like he was mocking her—I just perceived his daughter. When he acted as himself as a father, I viewed his love for his daughter.
Broken Chord, the group that made WET’s sound design, implemented rhythmic beats every time Alpharaoh acted as his daughter to echo her love of rap. The roars of a plane taking flight accompanied Alpharaoh’s anxiety as his plane took off for Guatemala. Most of the effects happened and passed before I could even note them, blending in with the atmosphere flawlessly.
Aaron Johansen’s lighting design enhanced each mood and location of the story with grace. The entire stage lit up in white light like a sigh of relief after Alpharaoh re-entered the U.S. from Guatemala. A patterned, saturated red light painted the stage whenever Alpharaoh broke into fast-paced poetry.
The sparse set included three stools, a hat, a jacket, and a mural depicting a silhouetted family against a cool-colored city and a warm-colored tropical backdrop. Brisa Areli Muñoz, WET’s director, utilized every aspect of the set without a single purposeless moment. I subliminally believed time passed or a character walked out of a room with nothing more than Alpharaoh sitting on a different stool.
Two screens stood on the left and right sides on the back of the stage. English captions appeared to translate moments he spoke in Spanish, though not all of the show’s Spanish was translated.
The languages weaved into one another perfectly and represented the characters who obviously would speak Spanish and English. One of the characters, Alpharaoh’s Guatemalan cousin, only speaks Spanish. I saw my own family in the authenticity, and I appreciated the easy to see captions.
WET left me distraught with no complaints. It’s hard to grip an audience’s attention for 90 minutes, let alone with a one-man show without an intermission. If you attend one production this year, this is the one to see.
With DACA more than likely appearing on the Supreme Court’s docket in 2019, WET appears as timely as possible. WET is at the Paramount Center Jackie Liebergott Black Box until Nov. 25. Students can reserve a $10 ticket in advance or get one free by presenting their ID at the Paramount Box Office starting two hours before a show.