While not exactly the dinner party from hell, a dinner with three middle-aged longtime friends who were radical political activists in college is thrown off-kilter by the last-minute arrival of a 30-year-old employee of the host.
David Hay's new play "A Perfect Future" is a wine-soaked culture clash between Generation Apathy and a trio of baby boomers, who thought they could improve the world through protest. Barbs are also slung at checkbook liberals, in this sometimes-tense drama currently premiering off-Broadway at The Cherry Lane Theatre.
At the Manhattan apartment of wealthy couple Natalie (Donna Bullock) and John Hudson (Michael T. Weiss), Natalie greets their old friend Elliot (Daniel Oreskes), just arrived from California. Natalie and Elliot happily reminisce about their college days of activism, open sex, enthusiastic drug use, and their "Das Kapital" reading group, while waiting for John to arrive home for dinner from the investment firm where he's a partner.
Elliot has devoted his working life to liberal causes, especially after losing his gay lover to AIDS 16 years earlier. Natalie makes occasional documentaries about oppressed people, while John is a powerful financier with his own wine collection and a personal sommelier. The couple still gives money to liberal causes, while Natalie regretfully wishes she were "still in the trenches."
Their latest cause is raising money for the legal defense of another old college "compadre," a former Black Panther turned health care advocate, who's been arrested on federal terrorism charges. When John arrives home, he unexpectedly brings along Mark, a junior associate that he thinks might amuse Elliot.
Oreskes is dignified and grounded as Elliot, the moral center of the play, watching bemusedly as John opens bottle after bottle of expensive wine from his beloved wine closet with much fanfare. Weiss plays the pompous, possessive John with polite condescension and smugly casual arrogance.
Bullock is brittle and emotional as Natalie, who seems cheerful at first but is soon tossing back way too much wine. She blames her depression on a long-term creative block with her much-delayed documentary about genocide in Rwanda in the mid-1990s, but it's soon apparent that her unhappiness is more personal.
Scott Drummond is nicely on edge as Mark, gamely trying to hold his own socially while in the boss' home. Clearly out of his depth, he seems unable to prevent himself from making downright stupid or inappropriate comments. When Natalie asks him what his passions are, he lamely replies, "music, dancing and the Internet," then performs an overly suggestive dance with his hostess.
Declaring that his generation is "a lot funnier than you guys were," he inexplicably blurts out a racist punch-line that goes against everything the others have been discussing, shutting down the already strained bonhomie.
Wilson Milam has straightforwardly directed his fine cast to develop some layers within each character. Even Mark isn't a complete blockhead, as Act 2 reveals. The absurdly wine-soaked evening takes a few twists and turns, building some tension among the characters until, fairly predictably, the married couple both explode with pent-up hostilities.
The beautifully appointed living room, designed by Charles Corcoran, is a tasteful backdrop to the empty emotional lives of its inhabitants. Hay has created the sort of strained social evening where, along with the uncomfortable dinner guests, the audience might wish the hostess gets a headache sooner rather than later.