The yuppie couple in “Little Footsteps” are expecting more than just a baby. With their marriage tottering, they anticipate a breakup as well. This all-too-familiar situation forms the basis for Ted Tally’s bittersweet comedy, finely acted at the Long Beach Playhouse.
Joanie (Austyn Wells) is an insecure aspiring artist, her husband, Ben (Peter Dach), a witty but emotionally stunted television promoter. In the first act, we find them converting a room in their apartment into a nursery, a longstanding project that has revealed both Joanie’s agonizing self-doubts and Ben’s hostility toward her (e.g., he is fond of making dead-baby jokes).
In the second act, which takes place just after the baby’s birth, Tally offers a farcical reconciliation of the pair, who are now pitted against Joanie’s controlling mother (a frighteningly realistic turn by Carole Hennessy) and father (Jim McElenney).
This may not sound like a barrel of fun. In fact, Tally’s script, with its uneasy tensions between throwaway humor and nasty dysfunctional undercurrents, can be a fairly rocky affair. For the most part, though, director Michael Ross has worked out a satisfactory compromise, timing the laughs and heartache appropriately.
Dach, perhaps in an effort to soften an essentially unappealing character, sands down too many of Ben’s edges. But Wells works wonders, serving up a richly textured portrayal of a decent but confused woman at odds with her family and herself.
* “Little Footsteps,” Long Beach Playhouse, Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m. Ends Saturday. $10. (310) 494-1616. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.