Holocaust humor: a tricky genre, best attempted with truly revelatory material or not at all. And in the case of Donald Margulies’s The Model Apartment—a dark comedy about survivors, revived by Primary Stages and directed by Evan Cabnet—I’d have to say probably not at all.
Lola (Kathryn Grody) and Max (Mark Blum), an elderly Jewish couple—both Holocaust survivors—are kvetching their way to a classic Sunshine State retirement. But their condo is still under renovation, and they’re forced to wait in the development’s model apartment. And that’s not the worst of it, we learn, when their past catches up with them.
Or rather, their daughter does: Debby (Diane Davis), an obese, psychologically distraught adult child, who’s escaped from an institution and followed her parents from Brooklyn with her boyfriend (Hubert Point-Du Jour) in tow. The family begins trading painful memories, loudly and at length. Ultimately, we learn—was there any doubt?—that Debby’s weight is not a medical condition but a metaphor: She consumes calories to quell the hunger of those who didn’t survive.
Oy. The couple’s Yiddish-inflected wrestling with history is unobjectionable, if clichéd—but there’s something repulsive about using obesity to talk about buried trauma. Like Max and Lola, I ended up wishing I’d stayed at home.