The first scene in “Multiple Family Dwelling,” a drama that is having its world premiere at NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch through April 9, takes place moments after an 8-year-old’s birthday party has ended. The honoree is in her room, her friends have gone home, and her parents Kelly (Maria Couch) and James (Dustin Charles) — along with Maria’s longtime close friend Tia (Dana Brooke) and Tia’s fiancé Stuart (Jared Michael Delaney) — are drinking and relaxing. The brightly colored balloons are still up, but there’s a bottle of wine on the floor, and some empty beer bottles are strewn about.
Tia and Stuart are planning to move into the building’s other apartment, which Kelly and James own, in the near future. Everyone seems delighted that they’ll all be able to spend even more time together.
The birthday party had a “Little Mermaid” theme, and a rock version of the “Little Mermaid” song “Under the Sea” is heard. And, sure enough, before long we learn that not everything under the sea here is as placid as you might think.
Indeed, by the end of the first scene, one character has erupted in anger. There are more eruptions, by other characters, in the scenes to come, with lies and manipulations, both big and small, coming to the surface. Even the multiple family dwelling itself (located in present-day Mt. Clemens, Mich., a suburb of Detroit) is, we eventually learn, not as idyllic as we are initially led to believe. All the important relationships in the play — Kelly’s with James, Tia’s with Stuart, and Tia’s with Kelly — are eventually threatened.
The obvious model is Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, with playwright James Hindman dissecting how ordinary people look away from uncomfortable truths in order to get on with their compromised lives and make the best of things. Until they can’t look away any longer.
The problem, though, is that the web of lies here isn’t all that complex or interesting, and Hindman telegraphs the play’s big revelation way too heavy-handedly. Really, I can’t imagine anyone not seeing it coming.
The actors are convincing, even heartbreaking at times. But they don’t have much of a story to work with, and so “Multiple Family Dwelling,” despite the fever-pitch confrontations in many of its scenes, doesn’t have the impact that Hindman is trying to create.
“Multiple Family Dwelling” is at NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch through April 9; visit njrep.org.