Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In On the World Premiere Of John J. Caswell, Jr.'s WET BRAIN

John J. Caswell, Jr.'s  dark comedy is an intergenerational haunting — and an alien invasion of the American family drama.

By: Jun. 06, 2023
Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In On the World Premiere Of John J. Caswell, Jr.'s WET BRAIN

Playwrights Horizons and MCC Theater present the world premiere of John J. Caswell, Jr.'s Wet Brain, directed by Dustin Wills. A terrifyingly inventive look at addiction's ability to transform one's existence and relationships, Wet Brain offers an American family drama that is not only freed from realism, but also, perhaps unmoored from Earth itself. Read the reviews below!

In a crumbling house in Arizona, a family haunted by addiction-and hardened into smart- asses-wrestles with the alcoholic ruin of its patriarch... who may or may not be repeatedly abducted by aliens. With humor and horror, John J. Caswell, Jr. brings us the transfixing story of a family mining the depths of loss, traveling lightyears to find a language for closure.

Caswell, Jr. began this semi-autobiographical play depicting events grounded in reality-at first, in a style and vision uncharacteristic of his offbeat authorial tastes and tendencies-until the playwright's own reality presented him with a reason to explore perspectives beyond what we think we know and see. Caswell, Jr., whose recent Off-Broadway debut Man Cave was "a political drama wrapped in the spooky pleasures of the horror genre [that] works on both levels" (The New York Times), merged the work's depiction of a family's deep, wounded unknowns with those that hover just above all humanity.


Wet Brain's cast includes Frankie J. Alvarez (Looking, to the yellow house) as Ron, Ceci Fernández (Men on Boats, Tiny Beautiful Things) as Angelina, Florencia Lozano (Playwrights: Placebo; Rinse, Repeat) as Mona, Julio Monge (Oedipus El Rey, On Your Feet!) as Joe, and Arturo Luis Soria (Ni Mi Madre, The Inheritance) as Ricky. The creative team includes Kate Noll (scenic designer), Haydee Zelideth Antuñano (costume designer), Cha See (lighting designer), Tei Blow (co-sound designer), John Gasper (co-sound designer), and Nick Hussong (projections designer). Stage management: Kasson Marroquin (production stage manager), Kelsey Vivian (assistant stage manager).

Wet Brain runs through June 25 in Playwrights Horizons' Mainstage Theater. 

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Laura Collins-Hughes, The New York Times: This is a horror show, unequivocally. But John J. Caswell Jr.’s “Wet Brain,” at Playwrights Horizons, is also a very funny, pitch-black comedy about addiction and obligation, love and abandonment, and patterns of poisonous behavior lodged so deep they seem encoded. Also, Joe may or may not be in contact with aliens, so there’s some space travel along the way.

Jackson McHenry, Vulture: Caswell flips open the play into full sci-fi. He builds to a sequence that answers many of the questions raised by the moments of horror early on, but in its own roundabout and wryly bonkers way. In doing so, he also shifts gears to reveal a surprising sweetness, which lingers even as the play sets itself back down in Arizona. I won’t spoil what’s coming, nor could I attempt to explain it, but it all provides a way for the play to reach out beyond the patterns these characters are trapped in, and see something hopeful out there in the stars.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: And then there’s the matter of Caswell’s script. Spoiler alert: “Wet Brain” may contain the funniest line uttered in any new play this year or last, and that comes when Ron tells Ricky, “I was homophobic way before you turned gay and I’m supposed to change?” The play’s dialogue is loaded with such gems whose sick logic sucks us into the thinking of this troubled family. Such wicked talk requires performances that are as loud as they are big, and Wills gets them from each member of his extraordinary ensemble.

Allison Considine, New York Theatre Guide: The play lacks a clear takeaway; rather, it offers up an examination of love and loss. Audiences go on a wild, wandering journey that casts addiction in a raw light. In Caswell Jr.’s play, the characters do not project judgment or disdain on their father or one another for their issues. They probe the truth of how mental illness and addiction trickled into their generation, and, by the end, they look for a way to fix the leaky faucet.


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