By Patrick Hurley
One of Donald Margulies’s early plays The Model Apartment is playing now at The Geffen Playhouse. The play itself seeks to tackle big ideas and even bigger subject matter, namely the holocaust, and places all of it into a small domestic drama about an older couple and their troubled daughter.
The couple, Max (Michael Mantell) and Lola (Marilyn Fox) are retired and have just moved from New York to Florida, where they are moving into a seaside condo. But because their condo is not ready, they are forced to stay in the model apartment in the community.
Their daughter Debby (Annika Marks) shows up and brings a whole lot of baggage, and a strange man named Neil (Giovanni Adams) with her. Debby is a mental child, who barrels through emotions and actions with such incongruity to the piece that it feels as if she’s a character from a different play crashing this one. She soon she takes over the play, but whether or not she is the focus is debatable. Her need to act out is rivaled only by her unawareness of herself. She has sex with Neil in front of her parents, she can’t seem to control any emotion without expressing it, and she is meant to be obese, and is problematically played by the actress in a fat suit. Perhaps this is so that the appearance of Deborah (Also played by Marks), another character that seems to exist from a different play, is in contrast to Debby.
Max and Lola are holocaust survivors. The play takes place in the early 1980s, and we are meant to make the connection between Debby and Deborah’s presence to the painful past the Max and Lola have been trying to escape from for decades. The issue arises, however, that Mr. Margulies doesn’t really feel the need to give us enough exposition to fill in the blanks that this piece seems to create. I don’t know who Deborah is.
She is a character from the past, and she exists in surreal scenes that seem directorially convenient. Which is to say that director Marya Mazor choreographs the Deborah moments in such a way that we are meant to glean the tragedy that surrounds her as being manifest from within Max himself. She is one of his “ghosts” and so she walks slowly, the lighting is minimal, there’s a dreamlike quality to these moments that break the pace of the play and are meant to connect us with the horror of Max and Lola’s past. I still don’t know why the same actress plays Debby and Deborah, but it may be something I missed.
The set, designed by Tom Buderwitz, is impressively authentic, and purposefully generic. But in the end, this play is a bit confounding, and the parallels of the family drama to the horrors of the holocaust leave plenty to the imagination. It reaches melodramatic heights with Debby, and at the same time underplays the message, so it’s an uneven story perhaps about mental illness, familial obligation, getting over the past, and seeking escape, but doesn’t ever get it’s footing solidly on any of them, and allows us in the audience to draw our own conclusions.
The Model Apartment
Written by Donald Margulies
Directed by Marya Mazor
October 11 – November 20, 2016
The Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024
Tickets are available online at www.geffenplayhouse.org
310.208.5454, or in-person at the Geffen Playhouse box office. Based on seat availability, rush tickets may be available onsite 30 minutes prior to show time. Rush tickets are priced at $35 for general admission and $10 for students, with a valid student I.D.