How comforting to know there will be a place for everyone–at least, temporarily–in the new order of things. Forgive me, did I use the singular? I meant “places.” They’ll have to occupy them all, more or less simultaneously: those cutbacks, you know. People will simply have to double up. It should prove quite a challenge.

Why, even the artists will be needed. Particularly so, I might add. They’ll provide the proper frame, the crucial aesthetic context to the far too necessary evil that’s to come. Then they’ll provide the diversions and distractions that will be even more required: just a little something to take our minds off the depressing circumstances of the world.

Make that a lot of little somethings. Think truckloads–or those boxcars, lately used to carry other cargo.

Thank god–and pharmaceuticals–for short attention spans. And state and federal funding for the arts, of course.

Far Away, playwright Caryl Churchill’s brief report from a future possibly just as brief, confirms a number of the earlier findings of Leonard Cohen and William Butler Yeats. Things do slide apart as advertised, in all directions. The distant–and thus inconsequential–murders of the present finally find their way back home. At least the courts stay busy with all the detainees.

At first encounter, her script reads like a freshly declassified intelligence memo–one that’s had all of its blacked out sections removed. Nearly every specific, identifying detail has been deleted. Literally all that’s left is the education of one girl-child, Joan, in the way things are, and the long subtraction of her innocence–in a world that’s losing all as well.

In particular, Churchill’s work seems addressed to artists, to warn them how easily their labors can be used in support of atrocity.

Marcia Edmundson ably puts an avuncular–but slipping–face on something unspeakable as kindly Aunt Harper. Her homey initial scene with Alison Hinks as Joan plays like Hitchcock, even if director Devon Allen needlessly veers into melodrama when the lights go out.

Hinks brings an unsettling intensity to the role of Joan. After asking the questions Harper’s most afraid of answering–and calmly dissecting every lie she gives her in response–it’s nearly heartbreaking to see her trusting, luminous eyes accept the biggest lie of all at the end of the first act.

There remains one ceremony of innocence not yet drowned by the end of Churchill’s work. You’ll see it in a simple act of clothing–not in the second act, but the third. No doubt that’s being cryptic, but the rest is classified–that is, until you see this thought-provoking work. EndBlock

Reviews & Openings

DANCE: American Dance Festival: Pilobolus, Page Auditorium, Thursday-Saturday, June 10-12, 8 p.m.; $36-$21; Children’s show Saturday, 1 p.m. $10, 684-4444; N.C. Rhythm Tap Festival , Carrboro ArtsCenter, Saturday, June 12, 7:30 p.m., 929-ARTS.

THEATER: Always, Patsy Cline, Temple Theatre, Thursday-Sunday, June 24-27, $18-$10, 774-4155; The Man Who Came to Dinner, NCSU University Theatre, Thompson Theatre, Thursday-Sunday, June 24-27, $16-$6, 515-1100; Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Raleigh Little Theatre, through June 26, $15-$11, 821-3111; Sweet Bird of Youth, Theatre in the Park, through June 27, $18-$12, 831-6058.

*** The Man Who Tried to Save the World, Burning Coal Theatre–Fred Cuny literally rewrote the book on international disaster relief in the 1980s, saving untold numbers of lives–but only after fundamentally rewriting his own checkered past. It’s easy to see what attracted Burning Coal to adapt this best-selling biography for stage, and director Matthew Earnest copies mentor Adrian Hall’s theatrical merry-go-round from All the King’s Men in an effort to keep up with his perpetually moving target.

But ironically a production that’s nearly one part travelogue goes everywhere except inside its subject’s head. Blame the subject and the book: Cuny cherished distance–measured in thousand-kilometer increments–in all of his relationships, and author Scott Anderson’s amateur post-mortem psychology never punctured Cuny’s exoskeleton of myth and tall tale to begin with.

Where Earnest cannot achieve sufficient character depth, he goes for velocity instead. The blur of speed distracts us for a while, but whenever this ride slows, the thinness of almost uniformly underdeveloped characters becomes apparent. (Kennedy Theater, BTI Center. Through June 13. $15-$13. 834-4001.)