In Documented, a Reporter Outs Himself as “Illegal”

With “dreamers” — people brought illegally to the United States as children — the proponents of immigration reform have found a winning word.

It fails, though, to capture the peculiar mess faced by those the term describes: They’re Americans through and through, possibly “more American” culturally than many legal immigrants, yet they’ve got no legal standing.

Documented is the well-told story of Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who outed himself as undocumented, a situation he finds terrifying and exhausting. He grew up in California, brought by his legal-resident grandparents when he was 12.

They thought he’d get a menial job, get married, slip through. They never told him about his illegal status; he never told them he was gay. Mostly, they didn’t count on him being a bright, curious student and then an award-winning journalist.

Vargas lingers for long stretches over his personal story and his complicated relationship with his mother, still in the Philippines — a place he dare not visit for fear of being unable to return.

But his story is a vivid illustration of the pickle we’re in. The United States remains a land of opportunity and a magnet for the strivers who keep the dream alive. It’s frustrating and weird that we seem to have no place for people whom any one of us would easily recognize as, like the politicians love to say, “fellow Americans.”


Documented’s Vargas: The Culture Has Not Yet Shifted on Immigration

Jose Antonio Vargas has just bared his soul to an audience in Queens and now he is basking in the afterglow. A crowd of dozens lingers in the lobby of the Museum of the Moving Image, swarming around him well after the closing credits of his film, Documented. The Filipino-American filmmaker smiles and laughs, shakes hands, poses for pictures, and tells his new friends to keep in touch on Facebook.

Read our film review of Documented

It’s no surprise that Documented — a deeply personal documentary about Vargas’s life as an undocumented immigrant — elicits such a warm response. He created the film with the express purpose of swaying viewers, particularly those not already sympathetic to the plight of the undocumented, to soften their views on immigration. The film’s true power will be tested later this summer when it is broadcast on national television, but early on, at least, it seems to be working.

Viewers end up feeling as though they have known Vargas for years. Moving from his ramshackle childhood home in the Philippines to the halls of Congress, where Vargas delivers a Hollywood-caliber speech to the Senate Judiciary Committee about what it means to be an American, the film is an emotional journey that provokes both tears and laughter. Vargas is the hero, the Pulitzer-winning journalist who sheds his veil of objectivity to fight for civil rights, but mostly he comes across as human. He’s the 12-year-old kid who loves Fresh Prince and the thirtysomething adult who can’t bring himself to friend his estranged mother on Facebook. It seems like he keeps no secrets.

“That’s probably what I was most scared of going into all this,” Vargas says later, away from the crowd. “The word ‘humility’ comes to mind. How do I do this with as much humility as possible?”

In 2011, Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in a New York Times Magazine cover story, telling the world how his grandparents, both naturalized U.S. citizens, paid to have him smuggled into the country as a child, leaving his single mother behind in the Philippines. The film focuses on the weeks leading up to the bombshell story, and the fallout in the years after. Vargas quit journalism and created the pro-immigrant Define American campaign.

Vargas has been touring the country virtually nonstop ever since, using his story to make the case that America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants deserve better from the government. Now, with the release of Documented, Vargas is poised to take his message to a truly national audience. The film premieres May 2 at the Village East Cinema, and is scheduled to air on CNN over the summer.

“The era of preaching to the choir is over,” Vargas says. “No more patting ourselves on the back. We will not win this thing if we do not talk — actually talk — with each other.”

During a roundtable discussion after the screening in Queens with filmmaker Paola Mendoza and Nisha Agarwal, the city’s commissioner of immigrant affairs, Vargas stressed his belief that movies and television have the power to sway public opinion like no other medium. He cited the Joy Luck Club as a favorite because of the way it humanizes Asian immigrants. Sexually diverse characters in popular movies and shows such as Frozen and Orange Is the New Black are widely credited with influencing mainstream views on LGBT issues.

“I would make the argument that the LGBT civil rights movement would not be where it is now if the culture had not shifted as far as it did,” Vargas says. “The fact that Jan Brewer can veto an anti-gay bill and keep S.B. 1070 [Arizona’s strict anti-illegal immigration law] tells you everything about how the culture has not yet shifted on immigration.”

With immigration reform stalled at the federal level, Vargas and other advocates are pushing state and local initiatives as stopgaps. In New York, the City Council is considering a bill that would establish the largest municipal ID system in the nation, giving undocumented immigrants who are unable to obtain driver licenses access to a variety of city services. Agarwal also points to a public defender service for defendants in federal immigration court, and programs to educate public school students about immigration laws and issues.

“We see our role in city government as being a leader and doing what the federal government should be doing when they’re lagging,” Agarwal says. “Those local and state efforts, they inevitably influence what the national government thinks it can and should do.”

Vargas calls it “an embarrassment of monstrous proportions” that the state legislature has been unable to pass the New York Dream Act, which would allow undocumented students who meet in-state tuition requirements to access financial aid and scholarships. But he still hopes that his film will make a difference.

“We have to change the culture before we can even focus on the political football that is happening when it comes to this issue,” Vargas says. “That’s why I think films are important; that’s why culture and art is important. We need more of these stories. This is only one story.”



Hear Pulitzer Prize-winning plays read by top actors when the Labyrinth Theater Company presents Pulitzer Fest. For one week, five plays will be presented: Suzan-Lori Parks’s Topdog/Underdog (which she will direct), Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife, Lynn Nottage’s Ruined (with members of the original cast), Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Ellen Burstyn and Eric Bogosian are just a couple of the many fine actors participating.

Tuesdays-Sundays, noon. Starts: April 8. Continues through April 13, 2014


Elizabeth Bishop Biopic Reaching for the Moon Gives Pedestrian Purview of Poet

The biopic, with its stubborn fidelity to the contours of real life, seems a poor form with which to honor a poet. Literalism is inimical to poetry, and yet literalism is the biopic’s principal currency: Its every movement remains in thrall to reality, however mundane, unglamorous, or undramatic.

And so it is for Reaching for the Moon, a film which, despite its almost parodically lofty title, takes strictly the most pedestrian approach to its subject, Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto). Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, former poet laureate Bishop is about as widely decorated in America as career metrists come, which doubtless made her irresistible to the world’s biographers and zealous adaptors of nonfiction.

The results of these efforts are, frankly, a bore.

Brazilian director Bruno Barreto, making his first English-language feature since 2003’s wholly forgotten Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle View from the Top, perhaps gravitated to the author when he learned that she spent many of her most creatively fruitful years living in Rio de Janeiro, a setting Barreto relishes.

But the life and work prove considerably harder to depict, let alone elucidate or enliven. Inspiration swallowed whole by a hopeless languor, Bishop ventures to Brazil seeking a dose of the country’s natural vigor, which she summarily finds in none other than Lota de Macedo Soares, esteemed architect and, as it happens, attractive prospective lover.

In their 15-year affair Barreto locates the heart of his drama, but, alas, the clichés of the form win out. Poetry refracts life; this film can only reflect it, and tritely at that.



Get ready for what might be one of the steamiest literary events of the summer when Susan Choi reads from her fourth novel, My Education. Her story follows a young graduate student, Regina, as she pursues professor Nicholas Brodeur, a handsome man who is infamous on campus for his affairs with his students. However, it’s not the professor she ends up with, but the person closest to him. Known for her heavily researched historical novels, including American Woman (a finalist for the 2004 Pulitzer Prize), Choi skipped the library this time to explore the unsustainable nature of white-hot passion for her most erotic work to date.

Wed., July 17, 7 p.m., 2013


Q&A: Susan Choi Talks My Education and Getting a Little Help From Her Friends Jennifer Egan and Jhumpa Lahiri

Susan Choi’s fourth novel, My Education, is an erotic, sharply written tale of a young graduate student, Regina Gottlieb, who finds herself drawn to the devilishly handsome Professor Nicholas Brodeur, a man notorious on campus for seducing his students. One of his many sexual crimes: “He was rumored to ask female students to read Donne to him while he lay on the floor of his office, in darkness, it was presumed masturbating himself.” Though she doesn’t need to take his class, she enrolls anyway and soon becomes entangled not only with him, but also his alluring wife.

Choi’s previous novels include A Person of Interest, a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award, and American Woman, a 2004 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, which was loosely based on the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. Choi lives in Brooklyn with her husband, New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, and their two young sons. Later this month, she will read at the PowerHouse Arena on July 17 and at Greenlight Bookstore on July 30. Here, she talks about the “best lesson” she received in writing about sex, her struggles to raise young readers in the digital age, and the book advice she took from her two friends, Pulitzer Prize–winning authors Jennifer Egan and Jhumpa Lahiri.

I imagine when you’re starting a new book you have certain ambitions or new ways you want to push yourself as a writer. Was there something with this book that you hadn’t done before that you hoped to achieve?

There is, and I don’t know that I did. One of the books that was most prominent in my mind when I started this book was one of my favorite books, The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst. I had read that in between finishing A Person of Interest and trying to start this new project. It’s such a gorgeous book. It’s about young people sort of venturing out into the world for the first time and trying to be adults. It follows these characters through many years of their lives in this way that allows you to see them develop psychologically and emotionally. The way in which you see them change I found really moving, and I wanted to do that. I really wanted to show Regina change over time, especially in terms of the way she feels about relationships and her own sort of personal responsibility.

I guess it’s safe to say that this is your most erotic work.

Yeah, it’s definitely safe to say that.

Are there authors you looked to for good examples of how to write about sex?

I love authors who write about sex in a really honest and straightforward way that sometimes has a little bit of humor in it. I love Nabokov, which I guess is an obvious predecessor to look to—although I could never compare myself, I could just aim for it. The way he writes about erotic love, especially, of course, in Lolita, is so incredible, but also, despite the subject matter, often so funny and so human. I just love his whole approach to sexual love. And I’d say my friend Francisco Goldman, who is an amazing writer. I’ll never forget when I read his novel The Ordinary Seaman. There are sex scenes in that novel that are so endearing and wonderful and real and hilarious between these two young lovers who meet in horrible circumstances. The only place that they can go to do it is this decommissioned ambulance at an auto-repair place. The sex scenes are really raunchy, but they’re so sweet. I remember reading it years ago and thinking that this is the best lesson in how to write about sex.

In your book, Regina is drawn to Nicholas because he has a bad reputation for sleeping with his students. Why is she going after such a scoundrel?

It’s just a reality of love and attraction. We’re constantly attracted to people who are bad or wrong. I’ve known many such figures in my life as a student. There have always been these handsome naughty professors who were accused of harassment, but people were fascinated with them. And there were lots of women who were turned on by the very things they deplored. People can pounce on me for saying that, but it’s true. It’s a definite thing to deplore these supposedly predatory men while at the same time finding them really attractive. Like, look at Fifty Shades of Grey. Look at this recurring figure of the sadistic, controlling, predatory, sexually irresistible man. Regina is as much a sucker for that kind of thing as anyone. And then the irony is that she discovers that he’s actually a bit of a bumbling mess. He’s not the Don Juan that she is hoping for.

When you’re writing, do you ever feel burdened by the fact that attention spans are shorter and that readers want to be quickly grabbed and entertained?

I do think about that. I don’t know if I feel burdened by it. I feel it’s a challenge. I want the same thing. I really want to tell a story that’s complicated and challenging, and I don’t want to compromise the prose, but I definitely want people turning the pages. I guess it’s not a burden; it feels like an imperative. But sometimes I think, “Oh, what if I want to write a really quiet, strange book with no plot? Could I do that?” I do feel like there isn’t much tolerance for that kind of thing anymore, which is a shame.

In your acknowledgments, you thank Jennifer Egan and Jhumpa Lahiri for their “crucial advice and encouragement.” What was the most helpful advice that each one gave?

Jhumpa had been reading the draft, like, hot off the press—as soon as I wrote a page, practically, she read it. She was with me from the very beginning and sort of deserves credit for my ever finishing this book at all because she was so encouraging, and I was having such a hard time. But the really crucial thing she said to me—we were on this long drive together and babbling to each other about our projects and where they were, and I said, “Yeah, well, you know, now that all this has happened, I think I’m going to have this happen and this happen.” And she looked at me and she was like, “Susan, your book is done! The plane is landing. No more, take it out of the air. You’ve got to start winding it down now.” And I was like, “Really? It doesn’t feel like a full book.” She was like, “It is. Calm down, end the draft, and then look at it.” I had this idea that I was going to write this 500-page book about this woman’s life. I don’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t said that, because I did sort of lose sight of the story.

Then, I was having terrible struggles revising this book. There was something really wrong with Regina’s point of view. It’s hard to explain, but Regina’s point of view just wasn’t working, and that’s the point at which Jennifer read a complete draft and gave me the most incredible set of notes. And suddenly I was like, Oh my God! I know what to do! Sometimes that happens, and it’s so amazing. You just need to have somebody else look at it and talk about it. It helps if it’s someone as smart as Jenny.

In an interview you said you were interested in writing as a child and wrote a lot of stories, and then lost interest in your teens and became more interested in acting and visual arts. Did you stop writing because books weren’t seen as cool by your peers, or was it something else?

Definitely not. It wasn’t peer pressure at all. It’s actually bewildering to me why I made those choices, because I went to a high school that specialized in the visual and performing and media arts. There was a whole department at my high school dedicated to fiction- and poetry-writing and photography, and I decided to do the theater department. I think it was me taking my interest in writing for granted. I just didn’t see it really as anything special. I had always written little stories. I was one of those annoying kids who was like, “I made a book. Will you read it?” I think by my teen years I was annoyed by myself. I was like, “Uch, whatever. So, I like to write. Who cares?” So, it was really me. In college, I took fiction classes and took it a little more seriously, but I definitely wasn’t, like, the literary-magazine person. I wanted to be a graphic-design major. I think I devalued writing because it was something that I was actually pretty good at, and I was really bad at those other things—just terrible.

I saw that you gave a talk recently titled “Raising Independent-Minded Passionate Readers in the Digital Age.” You have two children. What’s your advice?

Oh God! That was so hard. I felt so unqualified to give that talk. The talk should have essentially been: “I don’t know how to do it!” My eight-year-old is turning nine in a matter of days and he really wants an iPod touch, so we’re in the throes of that debate: Do we buy him an iPod touch? What’ll it mean? We get a little too agonized about it, me and my husband. But I worry about it, I do. Because statistically kids read so much less, and even kids who do read are reading books at lower levels than in the past. I’m a bit of a knee-jerk Luddite about it. It’s just hard for me to find value in video games. At the same time I don’t want to be that mom who’s like, “No video games!” My parents were definitely very strict about certain things and it just made me want them desperately. I guess the best thing to do is to create a culture of literacy and books and love of that sort of thing in your own home and just hope it takes without having to be a cop about it.

Do you try to bang out a first draft quickly and then go back over it, or do you go chapter by chapter, trying to get each one done as perfectly as possible? Which is more helpful?

Oh, the former, for sure. But I used to do the latter and just discovered that it was a really bad process for me. I used to write a little, polish like crazy, write a little more, polish like crazy, and it just wasted so much time. I could never get a sense of what the whole thing was—to the point that once I did have a draft, which would take forever, I would realize, Oh, that thing that I spent so much time polishing, that’s not even going to be a part of the story. It was just a waste of time and energy, and clearly it’s still hard for me to see structure.

You teach creative writing at Princeton. What advice do you give to your young writers?

I usually just tell them to try to finish a draft. I feel like the most frequent piece of advice I give is just thrash your way through the draft without obsessing over it, just get to the other side and figure out how it works before you start tinkering. And also, a more fundamental thing is my super-hypocritical advice, which is: Write every day. But it’s sincere. I’m always saying to them, “You guys are students, you’re not working full-time, you’re not parents—so try to write every day.” I feel like when I had so much time to write, I wasted it.

Right. Even if it’s just checking in on the draft for an hour.

Yeah, like an hour. I taught a class where the only premise of the class was to write 350 words a day, every day, and you’d be amazed at how much you’ll end up with at the end of three months if you just write 350 words every day. I’ve done it twice now and both times it’s been amazing. And the students are always like, “Are you doing it too, Professor Choi? Are you writing 350 words every day?” And I always start out saying, “Yes! I’m going to do it with you guys.” And then, like the hypocrite that I am, by the end of the semester I’m like, “Well, it really didn’t work out for me, so think about how lucky you are that you were able to!”


Water by the Spoonful: Catching the Coltrane

Wild, dissonant splotches of “free jazz” in the John Coltrane mode often bridge the scenes in Davis McCallum’s splashy production of Water by the Spoonful (Second Stage Theatre), which won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Quiara Alegría Hudes’s play, produced then at Hartford Stage, has finally made its way to New York, bearing that dangerous imprimatur.

New Yorkers like making the nation’s taste, not vice versa, and they’re not famous for approving of plays coronated elsewhere—a stance that the Pulitzer’s Drama committee has increasingly tried to combat in recent years. Both Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics, a deeply flawed work by a gifted writer, and Rajiv Joseph’s considerably better Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (on which the committee was overruled by the Pulitzer’s main jury) began life outside New York and were treated sniffily by press and audiences when they ultimately moved to Broadway.

Like New York’s haughty preference for being the determining factor when prizes are dispensed, the committee’s insistence on hunting elsewhere for a prizewinner may strike one as silly and arbitrary, a well-meaning attempt to resist a bias that hardly exists any longer. The theater’s shrinkage as a cultural force in our society has so entangled New York with resident theaters nationwide that we are all, in effect, stuck in the same storm-tossed little boat. The sooner we stop squabbling over precedence and start figuring out practical ways to keep the damn thing from sinking, the better off we’re likely to be.

The image of a mixed lot of people crammed together in a storm-tossed boat makes a handy metaphor for Hudes’s play. The occupants of her event at first seem to be six randomly chosen Americans, ranging in ethnicity and class from an affluent white guy (Bill Heck) to a Latina (Liza Colón-Zayas) who cleans toilets for a living (as she puts it, “I’m a practitioner of the custodial arts”). What they mainly share is the sense that each is headed for ultimate disaster. Four of them, indeed, turn out to be ex-crackheads, always on the verge of relapse, who meet through a chat site created to help recovering addicts. There, the affluent white guy and the Latina custodian bat messages back and forth with a middle-aged black civil servant (Frankie Faison) and a Japanese-American adoptee (Sue Jean Kim) frenetically fixated on finding her birth parents.

The two characters not initially linked by the website are first cousins: Yazmin (Zabryna Guevara), an aspiring composer, and Elliot (Armando Riesco), an Iraq War vet-turned-actor despite a combat-injured leg. Yazmin, who teaches music, advocates a Coltrane-like freedom from structure. (“Coltrane democratized the notes,” she tells her class. “He said they were all equal.”) Elliot, the central figure in a planned trilogy of which Water is the second installment, has just lost his foster mother, Yazmin’s aunt, a dynamic social activist beloved by her community as well as her kin.

Struggling to help each other through their loss, Elliot and Yazmin both find themselves at a crossroads in their seemingly stalled careers. Meanwhile, the four recovering souls engage in a tangle of increasingly complex interactions. Midway through, inevitably, these two narratives intersect, revealing hidden connections, before they move on, somewhat patly, toward a range of tidy resolutions. That Hudes’s apparently disconnected fragments resolve so neatly may be seen as either a dramaturgical flaw or a buried joke on Yazmin’s espousal of Coltrane’s musical principles.

Either way, Water by the Spoonful arouses interest: A play that strives to embody the free jazz spirit shows commendable boldness even if it doesn’t attain that goal. And Hudes writes with an imaginative freshness that trumps her somewhat conventional conception of people and narrative. Her language mingles standard prose, common speech, and current jargon to make a pungent diction that belongs distinctively to our time. (Like her crisscrossing use of characters, it has a neighborly resemblance to the plays of Stephen Adly Guirgis.) McCallum handles its shifting tonalities well, though his between-scenes multimedia glitz gets pointlessly insistent. In a generally strong cast, only Guevara seems not fully up to par, possibly because her scenes mostly pair her with Riesco, whose fiercely vulnerable, up-tempo rendering of Elliot’s anguish makes Hudes’s words jump into vibrant life.



“Perhaps the great error is believing/We’re alone/That the others have come and gone/A momentary blip,” goes Tracy K. Smith’s poem “The Universe: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” from her 2012 Pulitzer-winning collection Life on Mars. Taking inspiration from both David Bowie and the work of her late father, an engineer on the Hubble Space Telescope, Smith delves into dark and scary places unknown as she writes about everything from her father’s death to modern-day horrors, including Abu Ghraib and the
father who kept his daughter locked in a cell. Tonight, the Brooklyn-based Smith will be reading at the Strand along with her friend, Brooklyn’s poet laureate Tina Chang.

Tue., Dec. 11, 7 p.m., 2012


Political Animals

Zoom in on Capitol Hill, where a new representative to the House Appropriations committee is shocked to discover that corruption rules in Washington. No, our story is not set in the present day. In 1933, Maxwell Anderson’s political satire Both Your Houses won the Pulitzer Prize in drama for its smart, witty look at the Hoover administration and the greed surrounding the construction of the Boulder Dam (known today as the Hoover Dam). As we approach Election Day, Obie-winning Metropolitan Playhouse sees how the story holds up with this revival directed by Michael Hardart.

Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Wednesdays, Sundays, 3 p.m.; Mon., Sept. 24, 7:30 p.m. Starts: Sept. 22. Continues through Oct. 21, 2012


Fall Arts Guide 2012: Theater


Performances begin October 7

Ayad Akhtar has little to feel ashamed about. A longtime stage and film actor, he has recently reinvented himself as a man of letters, releasing his first novel, American Dervish, and also unveiling this play about a man professionally assured and spiritually adrift. Staged by Kimberly Senior for LCT3, in the recently opened Claire Tow space at Lincoln Center, the script concerns Amir Kapoor, a successful Pakistani-American attorney who’s about to undergo the trial of his life—at his artist wife’s dinner party. Claire Tow Theater, 150 West 65th Street,

‘The Whale’

Performances begin October 12

‘The Great God Pan’

Performances begin November 23

Either one portly actor is eating himself sick or the Playwrights Horizons’ props department is already working on a series of prostheses for the protagonist of The Whale, Samuel D. Hunter’s new play about a 600-pound man. If Charlie is destroying himself physically—via fried chicken and hoagies—the hero of Amy Herzog’s The Great God Pan, downstairs in the main stage, is suffering psychologically, when a visit from a childhood friend uncovers incidents of abuse. Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street,

‘Ich, Kürbisgeist’

Performances begin October 25

‘There There’

Performances begin December 18

P.S.122 looks to be having a sweet time in exile. While renovations to its First Avenue space take place, it has decamped to Long Island City for two co-productions with the toothsome Chocolate Factory. In the first, Big Dance partners with playwright Sibyl Kempson for a five-character harvest-festival piece scripted in an invented language. Then, playwright Kristen Kosmas crafts a new duet from a forgotten character in Chekhov’s Three Sisters. The Chocolate Factory, 5-49 49th Avenue, Queens,

‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’

Performances begin October 25

We’ll drink, Uncle Vanya, we’ll drink to this new Christopher Durang comedy at Lincoln Center, which satirizes several of Anton Chekhov’s mournful characters. Vodka and tears flow in present-day Bucks County as put-upon Vanya and Sonia await the arrival of Vanya’s actress sister and her latest lover. There’s also a prophetic cleaning woman and very likely a seagull, all served up by director Nicholas Martin with a cherry orchard on top. Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th Street,


Performances begin October 26

Composer Michael John LaChiusa and playwright Sybille Pearson take great gulps of Texas tea in their musical adaptation of Edna Ferber’s petroleum-fueled epic. Set amid two generations of sturdy Texas ranchers and slick oilmen, this sprawling new tuner at the Public Theater concerns marriage, miscegenation, revenge, and betrayal. Michael Greif directs the Lone Star saga, with Texas-two-step choreography from Alex Sanchez, in this co-production with Dallas Theater Center. Will they strike black gold? The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street,


Performances begin October 30

Don’t fidget, don’t cough, don’t text or tweet or sleep. And definitely don’t sit back and relax. The latest show from Ontroerend Goed, an experimental Belgian collective last seen at Under the Radar, forces viewers to take an active role in the theatrical experience. Reframing the boundary between spectacle and spectator, this show at NYU’s Skirball uses a digital camera and four bullying actors to turn ticket holders into the show itself. NYU Skirball Center, 566 La Guardia Place,

‘Roman Tragedies’

Performances begin November 16

Toga? Yes! Party? Not exactly. Director Ivo van Hove and his Toneelgroep Amsterdam specialize in making subtext super—taking characters’ underlying lusts, fears, and aggressions and physicalizing them, often violently. At BAM’s Next Wave Festival, they’ll rev up Roman Tragedies, an ambitious trilogy compressing three of Shakespeare’s classical downers (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, and Coriolanus) into one grand five-hour epic. There aren’t any intermissions, but should you feel thirsty and/or brave, there is an onstage bar. BAM Howard Gilman Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn,

‘Water by the Spoonful’

Performances begin December 11

New York audiences might have felt high and dry at the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize for this Quiara Alegría Hudes play, which had yet to premiere here. But local viewers can now get locally soaked as Second Stage offers Hudes’s elaborate script, the second in a poignant trilogy based on the lives of her aunts, uncles, and cousins. Davis McCallum directs this story of addiction, recovery, forgiveness, injustice, and the healing power of the Internet. Second Stage Theatre, 305 West 43rd Street,