Directed by Evan Cabnet
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
One cannot pay off the past. Unless it is confronted and dealt with, it just keeps impacting the present and future. Although Donald Margulies’ “The Model Apartment” seems to deal solely with the detritus of Holocaust fallout, the play is about far more and warrants the current Primary Stages revival of this 1995 OBIE Award winning play at 59E59 Theaters.
Holocaust survivors Max (Mark Blum) and Lola (Kathryn Grody) escape from Brooklyn and their daughter Debby (Diane Davis) in the “middle of the night” hoping to escape not only the ghosts of the Holocaust but the present reality of their suffering in the symbolic personage of Debby. Mr. Margulies’ play is the perfect window into all individuals and systems hoping to achieve a successful separation from past pain – pain that has permeated the present and threatens to unhinge the future. Debby obtains her parents’ new address in Florida and hastily follows then, arriving the same right they settle into the model apartment they must occupy until their own condo is completed.
Debbie is monstrously obese and clearly disturbed in significant ways. In addition to her disturbing presence, she is joined shortly after her arrival by her fifteen-year-old boyfriend Neil (Hubert Point-Du Jour) who is mildly challenged mentally and a further thorn in Max’s side of propriety and peace of mind and an incursion into Max’s retreat into silence relative to his persistent guilt over the trauma of surviving Bergen-Belsen by hiding in the woods, leaving his first wife and their daughter Deborah to die at the hands of the Nazis.
Under Evan Cabnet’s even-handed and punctilious direction, the four actors “skate quite perilously close to the thin ice of trivializing the enormity of the pain and loss of all who have suffered” (Kremer, p. 807). It is this risk-taking that gives their performances and Mr. Margulies’ complicated and diffuse text an engaging competency and dynamism that reflects the universality of humankind’s attempts to similarly trivialize their parallel attempts to “find meaning or justification for their sufferings” (Kremer, p. 807).
Kathryn Grody brings compassion to her role as Lola as this character navigates the mine field of Max’s reclusive mood swings. Ms. Grody’s delivery of Lola’s recurring story about her (imagined?) friendship with Anne Frank at Bergen-Belsen is captivating and eerie. Mark Blum’s Max is a kaleidoscopic portrait of a man unable to move forward spewing his fear on those he cannot understand or embrace. Diane Davis’ “unbearable crescendo of comic horror” (Kremer, p. 806) is a spellbinding performance not soon to be forgotten. Ms. Davis’ Debby resoundingly outshines her portrayal of the deceased specter of her half-sister Deborah although this apparent deficit is more the responsibility of director Cabnet who seems to handle the scenes between Max and the ghost of his daughter Deborah with an unusual reticence. And Hubert Point-Du Jour captures the gritty soul of Debby’s boyfriend Neil whose homelessness counterpoints Lola’s experience in Bergen-Belsen and draws her closer to his ennui and disarticulation.
Ultimately, Lola decides she cannot abandon her daughter and rides with her when she is transported from the model apartment to, presumably, a psychiatric hospital (yet another Bergen-Belsen). Max decides to remain and wallow in the past, denying any engagement with his current family, content to converse (yet again) with the phantasm of his murdered daughter Deborah.
Cheated from “enjoying” a catharsis, the audience shares the dysfunctional weltanschauung of the microcosm of the Holocaust inhabiting the model apartment. “Margulies wisely concludes his story here, leaving any further resolution up to the audience, challenging them to accept that the price everyone must pay for the Holocaust is that there will never be any resolution” (Kremer, p. 807).
[Quotes (other than from the text) are from: S. Lillian Kremer (Editor). “Holocaust Literature: Lerner to Zychlinksy.” Taylor and Francis, 2013. Google Books. ]