Review: The Model Apartment at the Ustinov, Bath

Few of us pause to consider second-generation Holocaust survivors. The stand-ins for lost children, mothers, fathers, shaped by unspeakable grief and survivor’s guilt; living reminders of what should have been – some even named after a murdered relative.

Laying bare the pervasiveness of trauma over generations, Donald Margulies’s The Model Apartment is a disquieting wake-up call, a gut-wrenching window into human resilience and the psychological minefield of starting over.

Max and Lola, two elderly Holocaust survivors, arrive in Florida all set to embrace retirement in the Sunset State only to discover that their new condo isn’t yet ready. So they are forced to stay temporarily in a model apartment — a perfectly staged but virtually unlivable ‘set’ strewn with hollow domestic props, a fake television and even an ashtray glued to the flatpack display furniture. They’ve scarcely put their luggage down in this cardboard cut-out of a home (a clever visual trope and backdrop for the barely held-together fabric of their lives), when in waltzes their morbidly obese and, it soon transpires, unhinged, daughter Debby – swiftly followed by her boyfriend, Neil, a rudderless man-child with the emotional maturity of a five-year-old.

As the reunion (or ambush) descends into sheer chaos, punctuated by Debby’s increasingly manic outbursts, disturbing truths and long-held grudges bubble to the surface, exposing the fracture lines in the "better life" they built in the States.

Slipping seamlessly into Yiddish, Diana Quick and Ian Gelder pull off a phenomenally nuanced and affecting performance as the elusive Max and Lola, each haunted in their own way by dreams of what could have been, yet so adept at 'moving forward' at all cost, they have for all intents and purposes emotionally checked-out.

Emily Bruni is the standout as Debby, a troubled woman so scarred by second-hand survivor’s guilt and quite literally bursting with imagined ‘memories’, she has lost any sense of self (or place) beyond the horrors of the Holocaust – which she describes in disturbing detail and with chilling matter-of-factness; simultaneously taunting her parents with her nightmarish fantasies and desperately seeking common ground with her unavailable father.

Overwhelming, unsettling and achingly touching, The Model Apartment is one of those rare gems that stays (and plays) on your mind long after the curtain call. - Marion Sauvebois

The Model Apartment runs at the Ustinov, Bath until December 22.

Enyi Okoronkwo (Neil), Emily Bruni (Debby), Ian Gelder (Max), Diana Quick (Lola)