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A Perfect Future

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Donna Bullock, Scott Drummond, Michael T. Weiss, and Daniel Oreskes.
Photo by Richard Termine.

Whatever your most cherished interest, look hard enough and you'll find a play about it. With his new show A Perfect Future, now at the Cherry Lane Theatre, David Hay is (likely by accident) proving that axiom true for a long-neglected group: wine connoisseurs.

Over the course of 90 minutes, four characters crack an astonishing eleven bottles, skyrocketing them past the pantheons occupied by such famous theatrical drunkfests as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and the collected works of Eugene O'Neill. Aficionados will thrill to the uncorking and subsequent imbibing of such luminous guest stars as Louis Jadot, Penfolds Grange, Chateau Margaux, Dingac Plavak, and d'Y'quem (at $1,000 a bottle!), before hitting the plot twist to end all plot twists: the appearance of a bottle of Glenmorangie single-malt whisky! I know, I know, I was floored, too.

Does it matter that, strictly speaking, Hay's play is about something else entirely? Believe it or not, no. The downing of and dwelling on so many bottles of exquisitely name-dropped vintage is far more interesting, original, and deftly observed than the actual troubles facing the bickering onstage quartet. Once those start bubbling into what can technically be called the plot, you'll be longing for your own magnum of Dalmatian red—how better to assimilate the problems of a clan of radical college leftists who, in 2005, have grown up to find the world isn't the utopia they once strove to create?

Ever since their days of cocaine snorting, wok worshipping, and sleeping with everyone in sight and protesting practically everyone else, Natalie (Donna Bullock), her husband John (Michael T. Weiss), and their friend Elliot (Daniel Oreskes) have discovered that life in the real world is often more Bartles & Jaymes than Cheval Blanc. Natalie's been struggling for ten years to properly edit the documentary she filmed during the Rwandan genocide. Elliot spends his life in Los Angeles serving on public-service committees, but not making the kind of active difference he feels he once did. And John has turned his eye toward money, using his empathy for depressed cultures to make decisions that have turned him into the toast of Wall Street.

But their tamped-down revolutionary tendencies blossom again when they're alone together, which stymies John's new junior executive, Mark (Scott Drummond), who's dropped by for dinner. (And whom, not coincidentally, Elliot finds extremely attractive.) Not politically active in the same way his hosts once were, he sees his generation as feeling strongly about things rather than ideals: the Internet, dancing, and comedy. To prove it, he tells this funny little story he devised for a club at the office where every joke must end in precisely the same ethnic slur. Oh dear: Racism at John's firm—there aren't even any African-Americans there!

It doesn't take long for facades to fall and the elders' world-routing hypocrisies to steal the wheel from alcoholism as the story's centerpiece. But the various shake-ups—which also include adultery and a Middle-Eastern man Natalie, John, and Elliot are just positive can't be guilty of the terrorist acts of which he's been accused—apparently exist only to make shallow arguments about the role Marxism holds and should hold in today's world. (Mark is rebuked very quickly when he calls the group's attitude self-righteous.) And how exactly John, once a fervent crusader for equality, has become the king bigot of the Financial District is never precisely explained. Money does that to you, you can only infer.

With the exception of the contents of John's wine cabinet, Hay's lack of interest in such fussy details ensures his play becomes a tedious, preachy affair long before concerns of the heart try to take over in the final ten minutes. Wilson Milam has directed with a style that's alternately fierce and lugubrious, randomly shifting in mood. But Charles Corcoran has designed a smashing elite-Manhattan apartment set, which Ben Stanton has sumptuously lit—the visuals convey the suave swank the writing and the acting fail to elicit. Only Drummond finds even a modicum of sense in his incredulous character; Weiss's stiff smarminess, Oreskes's constant stuffy disdain, and Bullock's misdirected warmth (a harsher, more world-weary grit is called for) leave you wondering not just why these people make the choices they do, but whether they believe anything they're saying.

Blame it on the all alcohol, if you want—it's functioned as truth serum in countless plays before this one—but a playwright preferring to lament the capitalist system rather than explore the complex humanity of its detractors is the more likely culprit. At least you have all those bottles to entertain you, though by the end of the evening, during which every character has found myriad reasons to drunkenly complain about his or her lot of that and the world, don't be surprised if you discover that A Perfect Future is driven more by whine than by wine.

A Perfect Future
Cherry Lane Theatre, 8 Commerce Street off 7th Avenue, 1 block south of Bleecker
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes, with one intermission
Tickets online and current performance schedule: Telecharge

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