But significantly, it's just that laughable (at first) recourse to the formula of a TV thriller or sci-fi movie that points in the direction of the truth, helping Emma and Frank chart the terrain opened up by the arrival of Haynes and Welch. Long before his old friend resurfaces, Frank has already imagined for him, however vaguely, just the kind of intrigue and danger he turns out to have been undergoing. After passing the seeds of this narrative to his wife (who, as it were, dutifully overwaters them), Frank turns around and mocks her paranoia of government vehicles: "Dark cars. Suspicious. Tinted windows. Unmarked Chevies. Black antennas bowed over." But we already know she's right. The terrain of conspiracy, like the empire it limns, stretches in all directions, making borders meaningless except as a demagogic strategy in Welch's fascist, state-centered patriotism.
The play invokes borders mainly to undermine, comically deflate, or cynically manipulate them. The overall and overwhelming implication is their irrelevance to an imperial might that recognizes no boundaries in the exercise of its will (things don't need to escalate far before Welch threatens to send a bunker buster through Emma's kitchen window). The vastness of the system confronting Emma and Frank comes across most dramatically in the unstoppable reach of plutonium — named after Pluto, the god of hell — which here serves as both a literal threat of the system and the ideal metaphor for its poisonous, apocalyptic reach. It's this geography (real, metaphorical, potential) that the play wants us to pay attention to, since survival depends on some grasp of the lay of the land. SFBG
THE GOD OF HELL
Through Oct. 22
Tues.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m.
Fort Mason Center, bldg. D, Buchanan at Marina, SF