The Model Apartment
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
The Geffen Playhouse
Through November 20th
The Geffen Playhouse has had a fruitful relationship with playwright Donald Margulies, resulting in memorable productions such as Shipwrecked! An Entertainment, Dinner with Friends and Collected Stories. It’s only natural the theatre would want to continue this successful streak, which leads to the current revival of Margulies’ earlier work, The Model Apartment. Although this play is uneven compared to the writer’s more famous pieces, it’s still an interesting character study and is brought to life here through some strong performances.
In late 1980s Florida, Max (Michael Mantell) and Lola (Marilyn Fox) have just left behind their old life and moved into a condominium complex. Unfortunately, their condo isn’t ready when they arrive, so they’re temporarily staying in the model apartment shown to prospective buyers. They’re ready to start their retirement in the sun, but their old life has followed them in the form of their unstable adult daughter Debby (Annika Marks), who refuses to let them forget their pasts.
Mantell does a fine subtle job as the seemingly put-upon but ultimately selfish Max, who can’t help comparing the troubled Debby to the daughter Deborah (also played by Marks) he lost to the Holocaust. Fox is terrific as the kind and well-meaning Lola, particularly in a monologue about her supposed friendship with Anne Frank during WWII wherein what is truth and what is self-delusion are artfully intermixed. Marks is superb as Debby, both victim and monster, in a brilliant performance that shows how the bonds of family and the weight of history can twist and suffocate a person. Giovanni Adams is good as Debby’s boyfriend Neil, but the role is sadly so underwritten as to be an afterthought.
Director Marya Mazor gets complex emotional performances from her talented cast, but the scenes between Max and Deborah feel somewhat flat, which may be due to the writing. Margulies has an intriguing idea for a play here: how the Holocaust affected not only its survivors but their children — and mostly it works. However, some of the broad comedy surrounding Debby and Neil’s relationship, as well as the diminished impact of the Max and Deborah scenes, unbalance the play, which seems like it would be improved with a rewrite.
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles; Tues. – Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 p.m. & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. & 7 p.m.; through Nov. 20. www.geffenplayhouse.org. Running time: one hour and 40 minutes.