The Model Apartment Review - The Aftermath of Survival

For the first time in nearly three decades, THE MODEL APARTMENT has been resurrected. Talented playwright Donald Margulies constructed this apartment – perhaps with the “perfect” family in mind. But, like the model apartment with a television and a refrigerator which are empty shells, this family is lacking some key elements. For this is a family which has endured unspeakable horrors and has survived. Lola and Max are Holocaust survivors who, in some ways, have never left the camps behind. Max has never forgiven himself for running off into the forest and leaving his wife and young daughter to their fate with the Nazis. Lola can still picture herself turning her back on her mother, a mother whom she will never again see.

Annika Marks, Marilyn Fox, and Michael Mantell - Photo by Jeff Lorch Photography

Despite the trauma they experienced, life goes on. Max and Lola married, settled down into a middle class existence in the U.S., and produced a daughter – whom they named Deborah in honor of Max’s first daughter. But the two Deborah’s, separated by decades, couldn’t be more different. Deborah #1 is a slender, well-behaved adolescent who will never reach adulthood, while Debby #2 is an overweight, mentally unstable harridan who cannot forgive her parents for having an earlier, very different life which spilled over into their new life in toxic ways.

Marilyn Fox and Michael Mantell - Photo by Jeff Lorch Photography

Max (Michael Mantell) and Lola (Marilyn Fox) have retired and decide to move to a condominium in Florida in the late 1980’s. Their condo isn’t ready, so that they are temporarily housed in a model apartment until their unit is completed. Are they moving to Florida to enjoy the sun and tropical life style? Yes and no. Primarily, they are trying to escape their daughter. But running away isn’t going to work. Debby (Annika Marks) follows them like iron filings to a magnet. Try as they might, they simply cannot get rid of her. On top of that, she draws into her orbit another lost soul, Neil (Giovanni Adams), a homeless young man who ends up in Florida with her. What to do? Will guilt or survival win out?

Giovanni Adams, Marilyn Fox, Annika Marks, and Michael Mantell - Photo by Jeff Lorch Photography

THE MODEL APARTMENT explores the theme of the “inheritance” of trauma, how the sins of one generation may be visited upon their offspring. Is Debby insane – or is she merely what her parents have molded because of their suppressed memories? Does Lola love her daughter – or only tolerate her? Has Max ever let go of the first Deborah? Does he have any love left for his second daughter?

Annika Marks and Marilyn Fox - Photo by Jeff Lorch Photography

Tom Buderwitz’s scenic design is cramped but appropriate – from the empty-box TV to the ashtrays glued to the tables. Sara Ryung Clement’s costumes reflect and enhance the time period, although her “fat” body suit for Deborah may be more appropriate for Halloween. Brian Gale’s lighting and Lindsay Jones’ sound flawlessly signal the transitions between the many short scenes in the play running staccato-like into each other. While the exterior of the play is well wrought, however, the main focus of THE MODEL APARTMENT is the interior life of each of the characters and how their inner life blends into or clashes with the inner life of those closest to them. THE MODEL APARTMENT is a story of pain and trauma and whether or not complete survival is really possible.

Annika Marks and Michael Mantell - Photo by Jeff Lorch Photography

Director Marya Mazor helms this production, often teetering on the edge of a razor. Despite the potentially emotional tale of pain and loss, Max and Lola seem bland and distant from the proceedings. Getting connected to others after life-changing trauma also seems distant and, in some important ways, may not engage the audience fully. In fact, Debby #2 is so bombastic in this flat, uninvolved space that it is difficult to empathize with her plight.

THE MODEL APARTMENT runs through November 20, 2016, with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sundays. The Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater is at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Tickets range from $60 to $76. For information and reservations, call 310-208-5454 or go online.

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