Whether set against the backdrop of roiling 19th-century New Orleans, Bush v. Gore, or a mass office shooting, three provocative new plays opening in New York promise searing appraisals of the American character plus several not-to-be-missed star turns. The personal is political in Lisa Kron’s In the Wake, at the Public Theater (November 1 to 21), which takes place on Thanksgiving during the contested 2000 presidential election and centers on a journalist (the excellent Marin Ireland) whose convictions are blown to bits when she’s forced to confront her blind spots. Politics of a different age and stripe is on the bill in A Free Man of Color, the sexy, sprawling new epic by John Guare (Six Degrees of Separation) set just before the Louisiana Purchase, when, says Guare, “New Orleans was an international city of great freedom and luxury, and all shades of skin were celebrated.” Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, and Talleyrand all figure prominently in the drama, a Lincoln Center Theater production directed by George C. Wolfe and premiering at the Vivian Beaumont Theater (November 18 to January 9) that tells the story of Jacques Cornet, the son of a slave and a plantation owner who becomes the richest man in town—until the United States buys that storied parcel of land from France and he is a free man no more. “It’s one of the most cockeyed stories of revenge and protection and fear and farce,” Guare notes of that watershed period. “And few people know about it.” Cornet is sure to be fully inhabited by the brilliant Jeffrey Wright (Syriana, Angels in America), for whom Guare wrote the play. A man’s life is also changed irrevocably in playwright and filmmaker Neil LaBute’s The Break of Noon. The MCC Theater production stars David Duchovny (Californication)—in his New York stage debut—as a white-collar businessman touched by what he’s convinced is a divine vision when he alone survives an office massacre. But salvation comes at a cost to a man we discover has a spotty past: No one he knows believes him. “Faith is this thing that people always want to have some evidence of,” says LaBute, who’s best known for works that tackle the brutality in human behavior. “The question throughout the play is, Did this or did this not happen the way he describes it? Is he a charlatan or a new man? Everybody wants a do-over in life, but it’s hard to wipe the slate clean.” (November 22 to December 12, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.)

Courtesy of Lincoln Center Theater