Review: Margulies' Disturbing Comedy THE MODEL APARTMENT

The word "oy" can be heard at least seven times before the lights even come up on Primary Stages' revival of Donald Margulies' 1995 dark comedy about a pair of Holocaust survivors, The Model Apartment.

It's peppered liberally into the lines of Lola (Kathryn Grody) as she and her husband Max (Mark Blum) fiddle with the key to their new temporary home; a model apartment in a Florida condominium where they'll settle to stay for a couple of days until their permanent home is ready.

It's the early 1980s and although the opening scenes paint then as an adorable, bickering old Jewish couple, we eventually learn of the tragic pasts they've been trying to emotionally escape. Lola is a survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she claims to have been very close friends with Anne Frank. Max survived the war by hiding in the woods, only to find that his wife and young daughter weren't so lucky.

Though their trip to Florida is officially a retirement, it's also an escape. It seems they left their Brooklyn home ahead of schedule, without leaving the location of their destination with their adult daughter, Debby (Diane Davis).

But the abrasive, belligerent and obese Debby does manage to find their new home and once she does she has no intention of leaving. The discomfort felt by Max and Lola as their emotionally disabled daughter makes wisecracks about Hitler and his death camps circulates into the audience. Her crass descriptions of her sexual exploits with her boyfriend and her helplessness as she finds herself without toilet paper while using the bathroom are embarrassing to watch.

When her docile, but hunky boyfriend Neil (Hubert Point-Du Jour) does arrive, they immediately charge to the bathroom to have loud, boisterous sex.

To tell more would reveal too much about why The Model Apartment is such an effecting play. Its humor, sweet and familiar at first, evolves into something discomforting as the symbolic nature of Debby becomes more apparent and we see how her parents struggle with their responsibilities.

Director Evan Cabnet's tense and engrossing production is set in Lauren Helpern's appropriately blandly attractive unit set. Blum and Grody give convincing portrayals of a couple with a deeply involved history trying to support each other while dealing with their horrific pasts. In his small role, Point-Du Jour empathetically conveys Neil's simple desire for a stable home.

Davis' large presence as Debby doesn't just come from designer Jenny Mannis' padded costume. She does an excellent job of making the mentally unstable woman a frighteningly unpredictable and potentially dangerous figure without losing touch with the pain she feels from living with her parents' regrets. Davis doubles as Max's fantasy image of what his murdered infant daughter, Deborah, would be like as an adult; a loving picture of future he survived to never see.

Photos by James Leynse: Top: Kathryn Grody and Mark Blum; Bottom: Diane Davis.

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