Categorized | Arts & Entertainment

“WET” is a compelling performance about living undocumented

Eleanor Linafelt
A&E Editor

On Jan. 31, 2018, exactly one year after he re-entered the United States following an arduous attempt to gain legal status at the dawn of Donald Trump’s presidency, Alex Alpharaoh graced Freedlander Theatre with his heart-wrenching and deeply informative one-man performance, “WET: A DACAmented Journey” brought to the College by theatre Professor Jimmy Noriega. For an hour and a half, Alpharaoh commanded the stage, his narrative about navigating American life as an undocumented immigrant seamlessly shifting from rhythmic spoken word to dramatic monologue to what seemed close to a classroom lecture.

Alpharaoh’s performance follows the heavily autobiographical story of Anner Cividanis, a Guatemala-born man who was brought to the United States illegally by his mother when he was three months old. Through the character of Cividanis, Alpharaoh relays the incredible number of barriers he faced throughout his life, ranging from being unable to travel to Sea World as a child to lacking the ability to get a work permit. He finds hope in an uplifting moment in the play when he hears about the establishment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Cividanis, however, does not meet all the requirements and decides that traveling to Guatemala under advance parole is the only chance he has to gain legal status.

The moments of hope and humor in the play, of which there are surprisingly many, are contrasted against moments of stark injustice and hardship. In a scene shortly after the unveiling of DACA, there is an audio recording of Trump (who is only referred to throughout the play as “the 45th”) winning the presidency and threatening the DACA program.

“This critically acclaimed production comes to Wooster in the midst of a legislative and public battle over the future of DACA and the approximately 800,000 young immigrants whose futures were upended when the current administration ended Obama’s executive order,” Noriega said.

At this point in the performance, Alpharaoh launches into a lecture-style monologue, giving a deeply informative explanation of why DACA is in jeopardy and what complex bureaucratic steps he and other immigrants need to take in order to keep themselves as safe as possible. Throughout this complicated lesson, Alpharaoh remains as compelling as he is in the other various styles of his performance, including the multiple short spoken-word pieces that are peppered throughout. These variations in style allow Alpharaoh’s play to remain interesting and surprising even though he is the sole actor for the duration of the show.

Alpharaoh, however, does not remain in the character of Cividanis for the whole time. He frequently lapses into other roles, including that of his aunt, cousin, mother, attorney and even a racist police officer. His remarkable ability to convincingly slip in and out of roles is perhaps most striking when, as Alpharaoh acts out his journey to the U.S. as an infant, he is at one moment Cividanis as a convulsing baby, and in the very next his own mother cradling her sickly son.

In a brief question and answer session with Noriega after an immediate and resounding standing ovation at the end of the play, Alpharaoh addressed both the danger and profound importance of performing this piece. He explained that in a political climate where productive bipartisan conversations about immigration are becoming increasingly difficult to have, we must turn to theatre and the arts for moving personal narratives like “WET” that remind us, in Alpharaoh’s words, that this is “not a policy issue, but a human issue.”

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