At first glance, Donald Margulies' The Model Apartment seems like a basic dark situation comedy. An older couple finally realize their dreams of buying a condo in Florida and arrive only to find out that their new home isn't finished and, in the meantime, they'll be staying in the community's model apartment — where there's not so much as an outlet for the refrigerator. But by the end of its 85 minutes The Model Apartment proves to be a strong blueprint for a solid show.
Lola (Kathryn Grody) and Max (Mark Blum), the play's central characters, are fleeing the winter cold of New York City for Florida and fleeing the responsibility of caring for their dependent, mentally ill adult daughter Debby (played by Diane Davis). Adding further poignancy to their newfound nomadic living situation, Lola and Max are Jewish Holocaust survivors who have never really stopped trying to escape their circumstances. But the veneer of their fake home begins to peel when unwelcome houseguests, in the form of Debby and her boyfriend, Neil (Hubert Point-Du Jour), arrive on their doorstep. The emotionally charged plot soon exposes the cracked foundation of this family, their relationships, and their history. The actors take the play's emotional intensity well in stride, especially Davis and Point-Du Jour who take on the most uniquely demanding roles. As Debby's new boyfriend, Point-Du Jour embodies a confused, homeless teenager who's been scooped up and carted to Florida. Davis, meanwhile, must oscillate between two characters who are polar opposites: the dreadful Debby, and Deborah, Max's fantasy incarnation of his first daughter who died in infancy during the war. Davis' transformations between Debby and Deborah, which even include a full-body fat suit, are all-encompassing, with even her speech patterns changing on a dime. Evan Cabnet's direction is nearly flawless. His sure hand finds the true-to-life motivations of his characters, playing up the hyper-realistic scenes. Just as deftly, he uses language, lighting, and sound to highlight the poignancy of dream sequences.
Lauren Helpern's incredibly detailed set (down to the stucco ceiling), Keith Parham's lighting (leaving the audience with feelings of anticipation from the growing lights of an approaching car), and Keith Parham's sharp sound design (doors slamming and keys rattling) make The Model Apartment even more engrossing. It's not difficult for a work of fiction, especially one set against memories of the Holocaust, to leave its audience feeling unsettled. The notable accomplishment of Donald Margulies and The Model Apartment is to leave the audience not only feeling for Max, Lola, and their family, but also more conscious of the human condition. Just as even the second generation can't escape the horror of World War II, walking out of the theater is hardly enough to escape the feeling of soul-stirring disquiet that occurs inside the walls of The Model Apartment.