‘DWELLING’ ON THE PAST, AT NEW JERSEY REP

Left to right: Dustin Charles, Maria Couch, Dana Brooke and Jared Michael Delaney share space in “Multiple Family Dwelling,” the James Hindman play that premieres this weekend at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. Photos by SUZANNE BARABAS

It’s a play that’s ostensibly set in its author’s hometown of Mount Clemens, Michigan — but as James Hindman tells it, “Multiple Family Dwelling” was directly inspired by frontier tales of gentrification here on the Jersey Shore, specifically his own experiences house hunting in and around Asbury Park around the turn of the century.

“I was standing out front of an old house in Asbury, and just as the real estate agent was putting her key in the front door, a team of police in full militarized riot gear pulled up to the house next door, and surrounded the place with assault rifles,” the playwright recalls. “Without missing a beat, the realtor says, ‘See? The neighborhood’s cleaning up nicely!'”

While he eventually settled upon Bradley Beach as his down-the-shore base of operations, Hindman would make Asbury Park’s landmark Carousel House the 2010 premiere venue for “The Bikinis,” a jukebox-musical study of a (not always harmoniously) reunited 1960s girl group that’s gone on to more than 50 productions around the country. For his return to the Shore area stage, the writer and actor whose credits range from Broadway’s “Mary Poppins,” to a recurring role on Marvel Studios’ forthcoming Netflix series “Iron Fist” expanded a ten-minute playlet into the full length “Dwelling,” which opens this weekend as the latest in a long line of world premieres at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.

The comedy-laced drama details the events that unfold when young parents and first-time homeowners Kelly and James invite Kelly’s old friend and her fiancee Stuart to rent the second floor of the somewhat old house they’ve purchased as a hopeful investment in what could only be characterized as “a neighborhood that’s not changing as fast as the characters would like.” What seems like a good idea at first begins to unravel during the child’s party, when “a little white lie finds its way out, and opens up the floodgates of all sorts of long-buried secrets from their past history.”

If anything, Hindman points out that “Multiple Family Dwelling” is situated in the landscape of lies — both the little fibs that get us comfortably through the day, and the colossal constructs that make life itself a bearable thing. With the very nature of truth, trust and facts an uncommonly newsworthy topic of discussion these days, the playwright  found in his short work — one that originally ended on an unsettlingly vague note — the makings of a meditation on “the kind of lies we live with.”

“When does ‘harmless’ end, and ‘hurtful’ begin?” muses Hindman. “Does the truth kill us, or help us? At some point all of us have to figure out where the truth resides…or else your head will blow up!”

Bringing the script to life are a pair of NJ Repertory returnees, Maria Couch (the Dorothy Parker musicalization “The Little Hours”) and Jared Michael Delaney (the recent “Mad Love”). They’re joined in the cast by Dana Brooks and Dustin Charles (both of whom have worked with Hindman on past projects) under the direction of another Rep veteran, Alan Souza, for the project that first came to the Long Branch playhouse as a staged reading in 2014.

“Working with these people is just phenomenal,” says Hindman of his experience with the Repertory team. “Their input, the care they take with the plays they produce, is invaluable…I mean, how special is this place?” 

Previewing on March 10 at 8 p.m. and March 11 at 3 p.m., “Multiple Family Dwelling” opens on Saturday night, March 11 and continues Thursdays through Sundays until April 9. Full schedule details and ticket reservations ($45) are available by calling 732-229-3166 or visiting njrep.org.

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