by Cynthia Citron
I’ve always enjoyed the plays of Donald Margulies. They usually are variations on a few definitive themes: family dynamics (predominantly Jewish families), the Holocaust, reunions, and various illnesses and insanities. Always delivered with large dollops of humor.
But not this time. In “The Model Apartment,” now playing at The Geffen Playhouse, each member of this family is far too troubled to be able to help himself, let alone help the others. They are all intensely absorbed in their own histories and there’s nothing funny about any of it.
Max and Lola (Michael Mantell and Marilyn Fox) are Holocaust survivors who have fled Brooklyn for a condo in Florida. It’s the late 1980s, but they are still haunted by the horrors that they lived through during the war. Max had hidden in the woods, only to discover, when he emerged, that his wife and daughter had been killed by the Nazis. Lola, on the other hand, had spent the war years in Bergen-Belsen.
Relatively happily married now, the two survivors are fleeing not only the past, but also the stressful behavior of their crazed daughter, Debby, unnervingly played by Annika Marks.
The childlike Debby, now all grown up, is morbidly obese and suffers from mixed-up fantasies about the Holocaust, even though it ended before she was born. For example, she claims that Dr. Mengele destroyed her teeth by soaking them in Coca Cola. In addition, she claims that he cut her open and stuffed all the horrors and fears inside her that her parents had experienced.
Suddenly, just as Max and Lola are beginning to feel relieved that they have successfully escaped their frenetic daughter, she shows up at their door. A neighbor had told her where they were going and her boyfriend had stolen a car for her so that she could drive down to Florida to confront her parents about having abandoned her without warning at 4 in the morning.
Moreover, she has brought her boyfriend (Giovanni Adams) with her. He is a homeless 15-year-old that she picked up on the street, has fallen in love with, and has been taking care of ever since.
He apparently loves her too and appears to not be put off by her craziness. Or maybe it’s all that sex.
At any rate, all four actors are exceptionally good and, under the able direction of Marya Mazor they evoke some sympathy, if not tremendous accolades for Margulies’ elaborately belabored dialogue, especially in the opening scenes.
“The Model Apartment,” one of Margulies’ earlier works, is no match for the carefully crafted “Dinner with Friends,” which won him a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2000.
“The Model Apartment” will be playing at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m. through Nov. 20. Call (310) 208-5454 for tickets.