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‘Model Apartment’ presents metaphor through characters

Posted on October 23, 2013 | by Nikolas Reda-Castelao

 

Courtesy of Primary Stages

Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies and running through Nov. 1 at 59E59 Theaters, “The Model Apartment” is a dark comedy about an old Jewish couple, Max (Mark Blum) and Lola (Kathryn Grody), who leave Brooklyn and retire to Florida. The play takes place in their new model apartment, where the ashtray is glued onto the table and none of the electrical appliances seem to work.

The entire setting of the play is merely presented as a façade — an extended metaphor for the tumultuous past of the two protagonists, which is embodied in the form of their frantically delusional daughter, Debby (Diane Davis). She follows them all the way to Florida. Throughout the course of the night, the demons of the past are relentlessly torn from each person. This is most evident with Max, who dreams of the beautiful and ideal woman he lost in the Holocaust. Director Evan Cabnet brings a dissonant humor to the play that frequently tiptoes into uncomfortable territory, but here uncomfortable is a good thing.

Each actor turns their distinct fears and insecurities into characterizations, finding humor and pain with surgeon precision, and as an ensemble, they execute their contrasting harmony quite well. Davis deserves particular attention because of how well she expresses Debby’s anguish in recurring infantile mood swings, jumping in between ebullience and outright indignation without the slightest hesitation. Everything about her performance seems natural.

Additionally, Blum and Grody show excellent chemistry. The residual guilt their characters harbor is conveyed with skillful nuance. Hubert Point-Du Jour, who plays Debby’s mildly mentally handicapped boyfriend Neil, is a buttress to the real resonance of the family dynamic, but he still plays the part well. The cast does extraordinary justice to a subversive script, creating a result as seamless as the façade of a generic Miami condo.

The set and lighting, designed by Lauren Helpern and Keith Parham, respectively, also are worth mentioning. Helpern purposefully designed the set to look tacky and generic, but dimensions to it remain — particularly evidenced in the last scene — which work exquisitely to open the play’s psychology. The lighting is eerie, almost haunting, when needed. It helps to convey the small tempered moments of surreality and menace between stretches of the mundane that provide the play its emphasis.

The only bothersome parts of “The Model Apartment” are the transitions from scene to scene. At first, they feel unnatural, more like a cut to commercial than a continuation of the story. As the play progresses, the scene changes begin to work, and the audience adapts to the unusual sound cues and lighting.

Overall, Cabnet has created a stellar revisiting of a master play with a master cast.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 23 print edition. Nikolas Reda-Castelao is a contributing writer. Email him at theater@nyunews.com.

Comments

  • John Francis Fox

    I really liked Mr. Reda-Castelao’s insightful review of “The Model Apt,” but I wish he had used the phrase “mentally challenged” instead of “mentally handicapped.” But I do want to commend him for his sensitive description of the character- especially since the mentally challenged are constantly ridiculed by hate-mongers like Bill Maher (who called Sarah Palin’s mentally challenged son a “retard”) and Whitney Cummings (who called Ms Palin’s son “that retarded thing that came out of Sarah Palin’s vagina”). Mr. Reda-Castelao is obviously a very empathetic person whereas Maher & Cummings are exactly like David Duke & Fred Phelps (the lunatic who carries around signs that say “God hates f–s.”).

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