Lock your doors, bolt your windows and gather your children close. It won’t do any good. The message being sent by some of the most promising plays opening in New York this season is that the walls of the traditional homestead have never been more permeable.
For much of the 20th century, a majority of domestic dramas seemed to take place within the equivalents of sealed rooms, no-exit environments in which clans fought, fell apart and reconstituted themselves in what felt like a cyclical eternity. Think of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” or Tennessee Williams’s “The Glass Menagerie,” or even Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child.”
True, these plays often reflected, in concentrated form, political and economic tensions in the contemporary world beyond. But the field of battle was usually confined to one set of living quarters and propelled by psychological warfare among people who knew one another better than anyone else possibly could.
More recently, though, the domestic drama’s dominant lens has widened to accommodate a much longer view, a perspective on abundant display this fall. The families portrayed in many of this season’s works often seem swept away on a heaving tide of current events, groping for anchors in a universe that no longer feels safe or familiar.
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Whether the setting is rural Northern Ireland in the early 1980s (“The Ferryman”), Alabama in the age of Jim Crow (“Fireflies”), a Florida police station (“American Son”) or Seoul in the shadow of the recent North Korean missile tests (“Wild Goose Dreams”), the characters in these plays suffer from an increasing awareness that home is a tenuous place. And there’s an abiding sense that even the most tightly knit families can be unraveled by outside forces.
That means that the tension level is going to be exceptionally high in such productions, Code Orange at the very least.
How could it be otherwise in Christopher Demos-Brown’s “American Son,” in which a parent’s most harrowing nightmare is given waking life? An estranged interracial couple is brought together in the limbo hours of the morning at a Miami police station after their 18-year-old son goes missing in the wake of a late-night traffic stop.
The names of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown surface, menacingly and inevitably, as the young man’s parents argue, blame and discover that what separates them is as much political as it is personal. Directed by Kenny Leon (a Tony Award winner for the 2014 revival of “A Raisin in the Sun”), the show auspiciously stars Kerry Washington (late of the hit series “Scandal”) and Steven Pasquale (“The Bridges of Madison County” on Broadway). The production is scheduled to begin previews on Oct. 6 at the Booth Theater.
“The Ferryman,” a London import that picked up most best play awards on offer there, is largely set in a cozy Irish farmhouse overflowing with a multigenerational abundance of family. (The cast numbers more than 20, not counting livestock.)
But since its author is the perpetually surprising Jez Butterworth (“Jerusalem”), whose plays are never what they initially seem, a mortal chill is soon felt amid the hearthside warmth. The discovery of a corpse links the head of the household to his past life as a member of the Irish Republican Army, and the arrival of highly unwelcome, quite possibly homicidal visitors is imminent.
Staged by Sam Mendes, this production pulsed so vigorously with plot, suspense and life itself that when I saw it in London last year, its more than three hours seemed to pass in one deep gulp of a breath. Featuring its excellent original stars, Laura Donnelly (whose family’s history partly inspired the plot) and Paddy Considine, “The Ferryman” begins previews on Oct. 2 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater.
The upper-middle-class African-American family of Patricia Ione Lloyd’s “Eve’s Song,” which begins previews on Oct. 21 at the Public Theater, finds that affluence offers no insulation against the violence regularly perpetrated in this country against women of color, especially those who are transgender or lesbian. The ghosts of the victims of such crimes creep into the house of the newly divorced Deborah, whose daughter has recently come out. Jo Bonney (“Mlima’s Tale”) directs this serious comedy, which Ms. Lloyd has tantalizingly described as “a queer female version of ‘Get Out.’”
Two parents from different sides of a historical geographic divide are each separated from their families in Hansol Jung’s “Wild Goose Dreams,” also at the Public, starting on Oct. 30. A North Korean woman, a defector now living in Seoul, and a man whose wife and children have moved to the United States examine the possibilities for connection in their newly solitary lives. The internet plays a significant role in their quests; it becomes, in fact, a living character, embodied by cast members. Leigh Silverman (“Well,” “Violet”) directs.
A great American atrocity — the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four little girls — is a catalyst in the fission of the family at the center of Donja R. Love’s “Fireflies,” which begins performances on Sept. 26 at the Linda Gross Theater. That event puts new pressure on the marriage of a religious leader in the civil rights movement and his wife, a writer who thinks it may be time to move elsewhere.
An Atlantic Theater Company production, directed by Saheem Ali, “Fireflies” is the second part of a projected trilogy about African-American and queer history by Mr. Love, which begins with “Sugar in Our Wounds,” set in the antebellum South and staged at the Manhattan Theater Club earlier this year.
In “I Was Most Alive With You,” at Playwrights Horizons, the ever-adventurous Craig Lucas (“Prelude to a Kiss,” “The Dying Gaul”) tells the story of a patriarch (Michael Gaston) who finds his life systematically stripped of all its comforts. Directed by Tyne Rafaeli, with a cast that includes Lisa Emery, Lois Smith and Russell Harvard, this production is to be presented simultaneously in spoken English and American Sign Language.
It is, by the way, a latter-day variation on the Book of Job. The idea that family — and the security it signifies — can be destroyed at any time is a primal fear for the ages.