The story, like the decade, begins on a deceptively placid note. A girl named Joan tells her aunt that she can't sleep. Joan has heard shrieks, ventured outside and found people tied up in a shed. Aunt Harper assures her that her uncle is only trying to help the detainees, but the lie doesn't work. "He was hitting a man with a stick. I think the stick was metal," says Joan. "He hit one of the children." Before the brutality has been explained, Churchill skips ahead a few years. Now a young woman, Joan works in a shop designing hats so huge and ornate they'd make a pimp self-conscious. They are worn, we soon learn, by scraggly prisoners who are paraded before fashion judges on their way to execution. In the final scene, Churchill ventures even further into deadpan science fiction, as Joan and Harper discuss the shifting allegiances in a weird war that rages all around them. "The cats have come in on the side of the French," Harper reports. "The Bolivians are working with gravity," says Joan.
As McCarter notes, more than any specific parallels, it's the play's po-faced surreality that makes it feel eerily prophetic, and McCarter's comment about the Bush years, "Almost by the month, things that once seemed barely imaginable became all too real," immediately put me in mind of arguably the era's defining pop album (released on the eve of Bush's election), also courtesy of an unsentimental Brit: PJ Harvey's New York-inspired Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, with its indelible line, a mix of horror and wonder, "Things I once thought/Unbelievable/In my life/Have all taken place."
Come to think of it, that line still reverberates post-Bush, for good and ill. And I have the sinking suspicion that Far Away, alas, will always seem close to home.