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Faces of the Undocumented on Two LA Stages

Two new local shows at the Latino Theater Company and the Greenway Court Theatre explore the experience of being undocumented.


Two local solo shows explore the experience of being undocumented in America. In (Un)Documents, at the Latino Theater Company, actor and poet Jesús I. Valles journeys across both sides of a river with two names. In WET: A DACAmented Journey, Alex Alpharaoh explores what it means to be an American in every sense of the word except one: on paper.

After WET was part of the Latino Theater Company’s 2017 Encuentro de Las Américas Latinx Theater Festival, Alpharaoh identified the need for solidarity between its narrative and that of (Un)Documents. Through cross-promotion and a discount, the two productions hope to increase their audience and show why comprehensive immigration reform is necessary. (For details, see below.)

We asked both writer/performers to share how they developed their unique shows and what they have to say about their shared subject matter.




Jesús I. Valles in (Un)documents. Photo by Jean Carlo Yunén A.


Jesús I. Valles explains, “(Un)Documents began as a series of 20 poems that I read for a few friends and theater collaborators in Austin, Texas at The VORTEX Repertory Company. Shortly after the 2016 election, I was feeling a tremendous amount of tension about the prospect of an administration with the power to carve an already extremely violent immigration system into something that felt unimaginably worse.”

Of the show’s development over time, Valles says, “The text has not changed radically, but my performance certainly has. The show has straddled the border between a Trump administration and a Biden administration, living through both long enough to attest that not much has changed where immigration policy is concerned. I think because of my growing disillusionment with policy-based interventions, the show has become an increasingly powerful way for me to connect with migrant communities who are already doing the work of organizing and caring for each other at the local and state levels.

“I’ve taken (Un)Documents to places like Appleton, Wisconsin and Carbondale, Illinois and what I’ve found there are incredibly caring, robust networks of care entirely formed by migrants and their allies. It’s beautiful. I think the show has moved from being a vehicle for making sense of what has happened to my family and has instead become a conversation with audiences about what it means to want to belong to a place that ultimately cares little about us. Countries cannot care for people, but people can. People can perform marvelous acts of love for one another in the service of care, and that has become the thing that the show has helped me find.”

The show includes this passage: “And somedays, I wish the table would break under the weight of the papers, and the papers would burst into flames, and every border would break open, and the line between here and there wouldn’t be. And there would be no countries. Just kin…Citizenship is a collection of arbitrary accidents.” He describes his show as “a spell for survival, and a spell to summon a time, place, and world where my family is still all together.”

Although he believes theater can still be a forum that people can take home and unpack with loved ones, Valles says, “My biggest hope for (Un)Documents is not that it will change minds, but instead that it will reach the histories of migration that so many have carried with them in silence. I hope that in its sharing, this show will allow other people to feel less alone, to feel that our histories matter and that our families, our loved ones, their crossings, their struggles, are all worth remembering and preserving. I think at its most potent, theater can inspire people to feel less alone, and tapping into that collective energy can be incredibly powerful.”

Valles adds, “Most of the writing in (Un)Documents is driven by a tremendous amount of rage at all the unjust systems that have doled out cruel circumstances to all of the people I love most in this world. I think to feel rage at a system is also to feel a tremendous duty to the people we love best. As a theater artist, I feel fortunate to work in a medium that is capacious enough to hold all of my rage and all of my love. Theatre provides the tools for an alchemy that transforms rage and love into the fuel that allows me to connect to others; to feel less alone.”


WET: A DACAmented Journey


Alex Alpharaoh in WET – A DACAmented Journey. Photo by Philicia Endelman.


The first draft of WET was also written early in the Trump administration. It was originally developed at EST/LA, where it went through two incubator programs with public presentations. It was then workshopped in New York and Dallas prior to the national tour.

Writer/performer Alex Alpharaoh says, “Having had a chance to tour throughout the U.S. has reminded me that, although there is a deep divide in the country, people are inherently good and kind. There is always hope for humanity, and our country, if we can choose love instead of fear and hate.”

Alpharaoh’s parents both came to the U.S. as teenagers. “They always encouraged me to aspire for what I desired to do in life despite my immigration status,” he says. He began his own artistic journey into acting as a boy. “I grew up in a of part Echo Park where movies were constantly being made. I got a chance to meet stars and hang out with crews during filming shoots.” He started acting as an extra around age 9 or10, the same time he began writing poetry and lyrics.

“I’m a writer of various styles and approaches. A big lens through which I view the world is language. Language is what supports the performance and lends life to the authenticity of the characters I play. This is why some of the characters only speak Spanish. This is also why we have subtitle support for those moments when characters speak Spanish. It was extremely important for me to make this show as accessible as possible without compromising the authenticity of the story and characters in it.”

It was important to Alpharaoh to work with a director “who understood how to ground me in my body in order to tell this story through the perspective of the various characters that I play. The creation of the show was informed by the post-traumatic stress I experienced after having returned to the U.S. for the first time.”

Alpharaoh has an extensive history with Greenway Court Theatre: “I’ve been coming here for more than a decade. I would frequent Da Poetry Lounge on Tuesday evenings to listen to some of the most amazing poets in the country. In 2017, I was cast in GCT’s stage adaptation of Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and was able to earn my Actor’s Equity card. That same year, I became a teaching artist for Greenway Arts Alliance, which I am to this day. I feel fully embraced, seen, heard, and appreciated by everyone at Greenway. I look forward to continuing to grow and collaborate with them for years to come.”


(Un) Documents, at the Latino Theater Company, runs through Nov. 20 with performances Thursdays through Sundays (no performance Nov. 5). WET: A DACAmented Journey, runs through Nov. 13 at Greenway Court Theatre. Through a cross promotion between the two theaters, buying a ticket to one production allows ticketholders to see the other for $19 using code SOLIDARITY. The Latino Theater Company is located at 514  S. Spring St.; Greenway Court Theatre is on the campus of Fairfax High School, at 544 N. Fairfax Ave.


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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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