By Madeline Schulman
Multiple Family Dwelling, the new play by James Hindman now playing at NJ Rep, is a compelling play that teaches us multiple life lessons. First, celebrating an 8 year old’s birthday party by getting drunk is inappropriate.
Kelly (Maria Couch), her husband James (Dustin Charles), her childhood friend Tia (Dana Brooke) and Tia’s fiance Stuart (James Michael Delaney) are all very merry three hours after the end of Kelly and James’s daughter Olivia’s party. Everyone is happy because Tia and Stuart have rented the upstairs apartment of the house into which Kelly and James have poured their entire savings.
Tia and Stuart will live above friends and Kelly and James will get money to take Olivia out of the sub par local public school and enroll her in Catholic school. The happiness does not last long.
Too much merriment loosens Tia’s tongue and inhibitions. She terrifies James with a recitation of all the horrors that can befall a child, causing him to relive nightmares of being unable to save Olivia from a fall.
After Tia taunts Kelly for her “chicken legs,” Kelly brings up Tia’s teenage romance with a boy named David Shaw, leading to unexpected drama. Jealous, hot-tempered Stuart recently took a phone call for Tia from a “David Shaw”. Is it the same person, trying to get back into Tia’s life, and worse, into her bed?
James tries to help with the world’s most awkward lie, claiming that he was “David Shaw,” disguising his voice and giving a phony name to conceal Tia’s surprise gift of a golf club. This solves nothing, and teaches a second life lesson. Smelly messes are hard to cover up.
Later, Tia complains, after Kelly tries to clean up the previous tenant’s pet odors with a pine scented cleaner, that now the apartment smells as though a dog urinated in a forest and was then hit by a tree. James’s lie helps in the same degree.
Unsurprisingly, the night ends badly, and the next few days are no better. Lesson three is that once we start pulling up (metaphorical) floorboards, we might not like what we find. Quarrels in the present lead to secrets from the past, which threaten both the friendship between the two couples and the bonds within the couples.
The acting is uniformly excellent, but to me Dana Brooke has the most chance to make an impression as sad, sexy Tia, unreliable narrator of her own story. Tia reminds me of Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind,” always turning to men, with a hint of desperation, for love and validation. And James Michael Delaney makes opening a bag of pretzels seem like a declaration of war.
The set by Jessica Parks holds one nifty surprise. The play’s revelations also hold surprises, some easier to foretell than others, and you will be waiting with anticipation for the next layer of lies to peel away to the truth below.
NJ Rep is located at 179 Broadway, Long Branch. Multiple Family Dwelling runs through April 9, with performances Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m.
For tickets, call 732-229-3166 or visit njrep.org.