Though global warming may result in unhappy events such as increased wildfires, more aggressive rainstorms, a rise in mosquito-borne diseases, and the eventual submersion of New York, it also makes for some astonishingly pleasant winter mornings. At the beginning of Rinne Groff’s What Then, Diane welcomes her husband, Tom, back from his jog. “You’re sweaty,” she muses. “Remember when December used to be cold?” In Groff’s not-so-distant future, both the environment and the emotional lives of her characters have become dangerously overheated.
Diane (Meg MacCary) has news for Tom (Andrew Dolan). Her face shining, she announces that she’s quit her job in accounting and become an architect—but only while she dreams. This explains her 14-hour sleep schedule; she’s been putting in overtime. The project: “a new housing complex with accessible retail space, and an open-air garden for concerts or fireworks displays,” Diane gushes. As Diane sleeps in the middle of her suburban kitchen, Groff establishes a graceful exchange between the unlikely and the everyday. Clearly marked boundaries between sleeping and waking lives grow fluid and sinuous, as do the moral choices among the characters—including Sallie (Merritt Wever), Tom’s grown daughter, and Bahktiyor (Piter Marek), her peculiar boyfriend.
Though it falters in its final moments, the play and its actors offer a distinct, and often moving, alternate world. MacCary positively glows as Diane details her structure, and Marek is striking as a villain turned ministering angel. Groff and director Hal Brooks vary the tone and pace, following the frenetic with the meditative or the somber with a full-cast musical number crooned into a child’s microphone with the refrain, “I’m sorry for myself.” It’s a great tune, but for all involved in this production, apologies are quite unnecessary.