Time was when a baby carriage followed soon after love and marriage, but no more. Men and women now have choices about how to spend their lives growing older, and whether to have children who interrupt careers, travel, and the comfort of cocooning as a twosome. In the world premiere production by SpeakEasy Stage Company of playwright Ken Urban's new play, A Future Perfect, two couples find their expectations upended when one of them gets pregnant.
The time is fall 2011, during President Obama's first term. The place is Claire and Max's condo in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Claire (Marianna Bassham) went from an Occupy Wall Street sympathizer to a successful marketing executive, making her the family breadwinner. Max (Brian Hastert) writes scripts for a PBS puppet show but prefers his extracurricular pursuits of songwriting and playing in a band. As the play begins, Claire and Max are entertaining their close friends, Elena (Chelsea Diehl) and Alex (Nael Nacer), an insurance agent who also plays in Max's band. Claire is mentoring Elena who has just started to find success in her work. The songs they played and danced to in the late 1990s, one of the bonds between the couples, provides the soundtrack for the evening. (Nathan Leigh's sound score is central to the mood and also covers the scene changes.)
During dinner around a table set with takeout Thai food, bottles of beer, and glasses of wine, Elena discloses an awkward announcement, that she is pregnant. All of a sudden, the implications of the future are different and the four of them are faced with the realities of nearing 40, and the need to allow for changes, whether they want them or not. Rather than enthusiasm, the blunt Claire blurts out a question about Elena's career, putting the expectant mother on the defensive. Max realizes that Alex will no longer have time to improvise music or spend evenings with him at concerts. Elena and Alex are offended when their friends try to make apologies for their first reactions, but the relationship will never be the same.
The coming of the baby is the hinge of A Future Perfect's plot, which comprises short scenes as time passes and as the ties between the two men, the two women, and the husbands and wives unravel. Claire overhears a conversation between Max and Alex that sets her off about her own life and the woman she has become. After she makes another blunder to further distance Elena from her, she tries to make amends, only to complicate the problems between the four of them.
Bassham turns Claire into a more complex character than the feminist cliché that Urban has outlined, but she still behaves as if the quality of her life depends on her professional success. She's a subtle performer, well able to telegraph emotional meaning by the cast of her eyes or the hunch of her shoulders. The most memorable scene is played out between Claire and Max in an attempt to a recapture the joy of their early passion. Hastert portrays Max as a laid-back, discontented, postcollege youth, even though it is 10 years later. Diehl can barely conceal Elena's simmering anger at being an outsider among three unfeeling college friends. Nacer as Alex is confused about his new role as a prospective father, and unsure whether he is ready. Uatchet Jin Juch plays the small part of Annabelle, an actor in one of Max's puppet shows, with panache and the chilling attitude of a pampered child.
M. Bevin O'Gara's direction is smart and economic, negotiating the time frame and varying expectations of the story. Scenic designer, Cristina Todesco has created a New York-type, spare-but-chic condo for the one-set show. Elisabetta Polito dresses the characters in casual disarray as if they do not care how they look when they have left the office. Except for Elena, the prop of choice is a beer bottle, always at hand.
Although Urban is writing about issues that should concern us, the play feels mired in the specifics of this time and place. The metaphor of pregnancy takes center stage, but rather than suggesting an acceptance of maturity, it seems to be part of a competitive one-upmanship, with none of the characters willing to move beyond their own insecurities. Despite the reversals, nothing is much different by the end of the play for the people onstage, or for the audience.