In John J. Caswell’s Wet Brain, premiering at Playwrights Horizons, Ricky (Arturo Luís Soria) returns to his Arizona home to help care for his ailing alcoholic and abusive father (Julio Monge). His sister, Angelina (Ceci Fernández), has been caring for him while studying for a career in healthcare and has had it. She is ready to move out and shift the burden to Ricky and their other brother, Ron (Frankie J. Alvarez), who makes guest appearances as a family member.
All three siblings have inherited addictive tendencies from their parents, expressed through their relationships with food, alcohol, or other drugs, and they all alternatively try to support one another but then drag them off the wagon. Dustin Willis (Wolf Play) directs the performances to extremes, but Caswell doles out moments of intensity and relief in appropriate amounts; between scenes of the three siblings reuniting and fighting, there are other strange happenings around their father’s house. There are flickers of possible messages from the television.
Between scenes, Kate noll’s set design swivels back and forth on a turntable, like the house is trying to move, while the trees above its roof seem to grasp at the characters. Early on, their father stumbles into the kitchen and tries to cut a glowing gem out of his body. Eventually, Wet Brain shifts into a more surreal plane, giving way to a sequence that provides answers to some of the play’s earlier ambiguity but not quite returning it to a more secure state, thus suggesting the way patterns repeat themselves. Metaphorical and metaphysical, Wet Brain makes palpably clear the pain that can be transferred between generations.