‘Multiple Family Dwelling’ play about family secrets

Two couples are deep into the booze following a long afternoon at a birthday party for an 8-year-old girl. The light-hearted conversation, though, begins to veer off course. A slight insult here. A confusing comment there. Innuendo everywhere.

From left, Tia (Dana Brooke) plans to move to move into the second floor apartment in the home of James (Dustin Charles) and Kelly (Maria Couch), with her fiancé.

Then there’s awkwardness as one couple starts making out. That would be Tia (Dana Brooke) and her fiancee Stuart (Jared Michael Delaney) who plan to move into the second floor apartment in the home of Kelly (Maria Couch) and James (Dustin Charles), a married couple who bought the place hoping gentrification gets there soon, real soon. It was their daughter Olivia’s party.

It made me think a little about “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff,” another play with two drunk couples, an unseen child and toxic relationships that thrive on taunting, nefarious games and  emotional abuse.

Things aren’t nearly as bad as that in “Multiple Family Dwelling” written by James Hindman, directed by Alan Souza, and receiving its world premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through April 9.

Things often are quite funny as the couples navigate this close friendship. But as the 95-minute play continues there’s an underlying uneasiness as you wait for that crack of thunder after the bolt of lightning.

Tia, a hairdresser with a wardrobe emphasizing her chest, and Kelly, an unemployed TV newscaster — “They aren’t hiring anyone over 30.” — are childhood friends, but not at all alike. Tia’s mother called her worthless, said she’d amount to nothing and dumping her at Kelly’s house was easy.

Kelly discovered having a bad-girl pal made her popular at school. That’s cool. But when Tia drinks, Tia talks. And Tia says things she shouldn’t and Stuart (a handyman) has a temper. James (a teacher) tries to calm things down.

The one thing they all have in common are marriage-wrecking secrets, call-off-the-wedding secrets, and before this play ends, we learn them all from actors who are really good at their jobs.

I just wonder why these characters are still very close friends when the play opens. If my childhood friend betrayed me as Tia did and I knew it, good-bye girl! And, as she seems to target married men when it comes to sex, and I know my husband’s no saint, she would not be moving into my house no matter how much I needed the money. Just sayin’.

The show is deftly directed by Souza on a stage designed by Jessica Parks and lit by Jill Nangle. Costumes by Patricia E. Doherty with sound designed by Merek Royce Press.

“Multiple Family Dwelling”

— Thursdays through Sundays through April 9  
— Tickets $46. Call 732-229-3166 or visit http://www.njrep.org