From T.S. Eliot to Tracy Letts, the Dinner Party from Hell has always been a reliable set-up for the kind of brittle, sophisticated dramedy that David Hay thinks he’s penned in “A Perfect Future.” Scribe does, in fact, follow the classic formula by setting up a dinner party for three old friends who were political radicals in their flaming youth — and by tossing in one unexpected guest to shake them up. But the situation is so contrived that everything about these insufferably smug characters screams bogus-bogus-bogus and every word out of their mouths sounds phoney-phoney-phoney.

Hay (“The Maddening Truth”) has the knives out for Wall Street moneybags John Hudson (Michael T. Weiss), and his wife, Natalie (Donna Bullock), an award-winning documentary filmmaker.

Back in the day, this power couple belonged to a group of student activists who stormed the political barricades and got high from reading Karl Marx. Nowadays, John huddles with his sommelier, while Natalie takes pills for depression. And while they may still think of themselves as rebels, their political activities have come down to writing big checks for leftist causes.

Elliot Murphy (Daniel Oreskes, putting a brave face on it), a friend from the old days who still considers himself “a practicing Marxist,” has come by for one of those checks. Let’s make it $25,000 for the legal defense fund of another blast from the past, an ex-Black Panther who’s been arrested for domestic terrorism.

But first, his host and hostess must entertain Elliot. Natalie is cooking dinner and John has invited Mark (Scott Drummond), a cute young guy from the office.

Once Mark arrives and John flings open the door to his extensive wine collection, it’s fairly obvious where this is headed.

Making no apologies to Edward Albee for plundering “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Hay makes sure that Natalie gets rip-roaring drunk, hits on Mark, embarrasses Elliot, provokes John, gets maudlin (“I want to be in the trenches, like we used to be”) and ruins the dinner.

Also on cue, John turns nasty and attacks Martha — oops, I mean Natalie — by revealing some ugly secrets about their supposedly perfect marriage and ideal life.

By the end of the evening, everyone is drained as dry as the 12 bottles of expensive wine — and one bottle of whiskey — that were consumed. (And you better believe that helmer Wilson Milam had his hands full staging that marathon drunk.)

But the characters are the same stereotypes they were at the beginning of this painfully artificial play, and no amount of strenuous over-acting can change that.

A Perfect Future

Cherry Lane Theater; 178 seats; $69 top

  • Production: An Andy Sandberg, Whitney Hoagland Edwards, and Neal-Rose Creations presentation of a play in two acts by David Hay. Directed by Wilson Milam.
  • Crew: Set, Charles Corcoran; costumes, Michael McDonald; lighting, Ben Stanton; sound, Daniel Kluger; props, Propstar; production stage manager, Donald Fried. Reviewed Feb. 15, 2011. Opened Feb. 17. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.
  • Cast: Elliot Murphy - Daniel Oreskes <br> Natalie Schiff-Hudson - Donna Bullock <br> John Hudson - Michael T. Weiss <br> Mark Colvin - Scott Drummond
  • Music By: