Rinne Groff Plumbs the Empty Depths of Her Lake Wobegon


Outside the kitchen, a nightmare rages; inside—on the kitchen table, in fact—a healing dream unfolds. As with her earlier plays Inky and Jimmy Carter Was a Democrat, Rinne Groff creates a multifaceted domestic drama to reflect suffering on a macro scale. In Of a White Christmas, ecological disaster prevails: Lakes have shriveled and the poor wear gas masks. But in Diane and Tom’s upscale kitchen, the fluorescent glare of the real clashes with a seductive fantasy world.

Diane, fired from her accounting job, retreats into 18-hour sleep fests—curled atop the table in a slip—where she insists she’s “working” to reclaim the toxic lake nearby. Husband Tom, a suit with the powers that pollute, huffs with exasperation. His grown daughter Sallie, a brat and a druggie, devises a devious plot against her somnolent stepmother. A young immigrant fleeing a Russian ecological disaster figures in her plan.

As Diane sleeps, amusing domestic comedy darkens into gory violence. Is the mysterious young man with the syringe really Diane’s landscape architect? As she wakes, she sweeps him into her rhapsodic world, and he erupts into a rock ballad, wailing into the broom-handle and dancing on the linoleum. Derek Lucci plays the befuddled Russian with perfect pitch opposite Meg MacCary’s surpassingly sweet Diane. Ken Marks and Susan Pourfar bring bite and poignancy to father and daughter.

Groff doesn’t convincingly resolve her entrancing situation, but director Trip Cullman casts a spell in which the taut action, zany humor, and sensitive connections flow into each other as in . . . a dream.