SpeakEasy's "A Future Perfect" Presents Imperfect Playwriting

Claire (Marianna Bassham), Max (Brian Hastert), Elena (Chelsea Diehl), and Alex (Nael Nacer) toast to their friendship in the world premiere of Ken Urban's A Future Perfect. (Photo credit: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo).

I appreciate the SpeakEasy's willingness (even eagerness, at this point) to produce new works.  SpeakEasy Stage Company chose an impressive season of risks and challenges, diversifying the Boston theatre scene with each of their productions.  Ken Urban's world premiere production of A Future Perfect poses unexpected risks and challenges for this Boston staple theatre company.  The actors and director rise to the challenge, but the script leaves them in a precarious place of performing a play that's so much "been there, done that" that I expected someone to have bought the T-shirt by now.  Urban's play stays in such a safe and cozy place for the play's 100-minute performance that the audience is lured into a false sense of perfection, where the future is all but certain and the play's characters tread lightly to avoid saying or doing anything to step out of the mold in which they were written. 

In A Future Perfect, late-thirty-something couple, Claire (Marianna Bassham) and Max (Brian Hastert) invite their best friend Alex (Nael Nacer) and his wife, Elena (Chelsea Diehl), over for a Friday night dinner.  Early in this dinner (over a predictable "alcohol-induced moment"), Alex and Elena blurt out their big news: Elena is pregnant (and their friendships will never be the same). Elena and Claire are "work friends," and Claire has choice words about Elena's decision to abandon the corporate world for motherhood.  Max worries about losing his music-jamming partner once fatherhood hits.  The conversation that follow unravel the neat friendship at the beginning, as the couples fight between and among themselves about what really matters, what values that they hold dear, and how to navigate their changing lives.  

It's difficult to describe what happens in A Future Perfect because very little seems to occur, as the characters float from one innocuous conversation to the next.  The stakes are raised as the couples confront each other and their partners, but, for the most part, they retreat before any profound conversation or topic can be discussed.  The plot moves at a predictable pace and covers the expected topics and ideas for this play's genre.  A Future Perfect follows in the vein of Donald Margulies's Dinner With Friends, but fails to explore new ground.  With such limitations in the script, the play reads as simple, pedestrian, and almost trite.  While the dialogue is strong in its clarity and believability, the play's characters struggle to create interesting theatre or memorable moments.  The play is trivial and makes the characters (despite their Ivy League education) seem similarly one-dimensional and, dare I say, lame. 

Thankfully, Director M. Bevin O'Gara does her best to navigate the personal relationships with a fine eye for nuance and realism.  She coaches and directs her actors to fine effect, given the play's limits for character development and plot.  The actors respond to her strong directing with equally strong performances, relaxing into the environment and the play's circumstances like a well-worn sofa.  Marianna Bassham's Claire is a "ball buster," but Bassham finds moments of weakness and softness to round out her character in impressive ways.  Brian Hastert's Max grew on me, especially once he developed a clearer direction and purpose for Max's relationship with Claire.  Nael Nacer's Alex felt the most authentic, finding moments of humor and personality, despite Urban giving him little context or stage time. Chelsea Diehl's Elena delivers a strong performance in her final scene, showing her emotions and thoughts percolating beneath the surface.  Their scenes together all resonate with truthfulness and sincerity, however, they feel like a well-arranged picture, stagnant and flat in their simplicity. 

One of the production's strongest features is, surprisingly, the sound design by Nathan Leigh.  Applying Urban's musical background, Leigh arranges a beautiful score of music that is pitch-perfect in accenting the play's transitions and moments.  They made the play come alive and add depth in unexpected ways.  The scenic design by Cristina Todesco is equally as strong, establishing the play's condo with its attention to detail (the records on the shelf, the well-placed wine rack, the unused desk).  The only complaint is the artifice of the sectional couch, which did not fit the TV's placement in the room.  2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award Nominee Elisabetta Polito's costume design was mostly an effective exhibit of character and personality, though some of Bassham's costumes seemed a bit ill-fitting, whereas Hastert's seemed to accent his body. 

A Future Perfect is not a bad play, but it is certainly unremarkable in its story or dialogue.  Urban seems to borrow from prior plays without expounding upon the subject or themes.  Luckily, O'Gara and her cast are top-notch talent who push against their tired characters, trying to create a noteworthy performance and production.  Unfortunately, they succeed in only creating so much perfection from the imperfect script. 

A Future Perfect plays in Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in the South End from now until February 7, 2015.  Tickets are available here, or find the best deals through Goldstar.  Of particular note, Anyone age 40 or under can get a ticket to any performance for just $35 (along with any fees).  This is in addition to their standard policy that anyone age 25 and under can get a ticket to any performance for just $25 (along with any fees).