It's a terrifying time: The president of the United States has been granted legal authority to hold anyone deemed a threat to the nation indefinitely, without trial, and even to order the assassination of U.S. citizens. In Congress, some legislators have seriously discussed the possibility of turning off the Internet in the name of national security. Reports surface daily of innocents kidnapped by U.S. agents and tortured in secret military prisons. And that's just this morning's RSS feed.

In The North Plan, playwright Jason Wells takes the unchecked growth of America's security-surveillance-detention complex to its worst possible conclusion, as the U.S. government is torn asunder by a military coup and the flag-waving goons behind it begin rounding up anyone who might be a threat to the regime. The only hope for the future is a single State Department employee (Brian Patrick Monahan), who's ready to go public with the enemies list. But he's stuck in a small-town jail, and his only hope is the foulmouthed redneck waitress (Kate Eastwood Norris) he begs to sneak the list out from under the noses of a pair of Homeland Security thugs and expose the plan. 

The North Plan is light entertainment at heart, leaning on creaky stereotypes and well-timed vulgarity for laughs and textbook thriller tropes for tension. All that elevates it above a Steven Soderbergh-directed Greater Tuna, besides Norris' endless bouncy energy and Tim True's spot-on performance as a small-town cop, is its awful plausibility. Like The Manchurian Candidate or Three Days of the Condor, Wells' drama is, right up to its abrupt and ambiguous conclusion, an escapist fantasy with no escape. You should leave the theater worried.

But you won't get any hint of that from Portland Center Stage, which has included in the show's program a frivolous essay on famous conspiracy theories that compares the play's authoritarian machinations to Roswell and the faked moon landing. It's as though Stanley Kubrick had kicked off Dr. Strangelove with a friendly ICBM puppet reminding us that nuclear annihilation isn't really likely. Not only is the frivolous tone unfair to the playwright, it's a dereliction of political responsibility.

SEE IT: The Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700, 7:30 pm Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 pm Sundays and Saturday, Jan. 21. Closes Feb. 5. $20-$64.