Diane Davis may not be a familiar name to you, but she’s making waves in the New York theatre scene. The actress is currently starring in The Model Apartment by Donald Margulies at Primary Stages.
The 1988 revival’s storyline revolves around a character named Debby who is suffering from mental illness and obesity. Her journey takes her from New York to Florida as she follows her parents south. Davis also plays a secondary role as her father’s daughter Deborah who died in the Holocaust. This duality has earned her raves from New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley.
When the 35-year-old actress found out about the audition for the dark play, she was in the Canadian wilderness away from technology and electricity. She really wanted the role, so she made every effort to make the audition happen.
“So I got in a canoe, with an iPad in a dry bag, and I paddled over to my friend’s house,” said Davis.
Her friend shot her audition scenes on the iPad and Davis paddled back to her house to find an internet connection to upload the video. She had to repeat the same steps all over again once she received word about the callback.
After all of that effort, she earned the role. Davis was thrilled because she knew she had moved beyond “the ingénue phase” of her career.
Playing someone with mental illness onstage also required a lot of research from the mother-of-one.
She shared, “I talked with psychiatrists I knew to kind of diagnose her. Because it’s not entirely clear in the play: Is she schizophrenic, is she this, is she that? What I sort of decided upon is that she’s schizoaffective with mania, bipolar.”
In addition to working with those in the medical field, video research was also required to understand a patient’s behavior.
“I watched videos of people in these sorts of flights. I read books about schizophrenia, and I spoke with a friend who is schizoaffective with bipolar. He had this description of mania as feeling like your head is hooked up to jumper cables, that sort of sizzly, electric feeling. Each night, I try to get into that mind-set,” explained Davis.
Getting into that mind-set comes with a bit of humor.
The Primary Stages star laughed, “I dance around to songs in the dressing room in my costume…for like 20 minutes.”
Since her character is overweight, she dons a fat suit each performance to put her right into character.
Davis revealed, “It moves well. It looks realistic, the way they sort of distributed the weight on her. It’s really remarkable, coming out onstage. There’s usually an audible response.”
While some may think the fat suit would be restricting, it’s just the opposite for her.
“But you know, there’s such freedom in this role,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about what you look like at all. You don’t have to worry about being polite. It’s sort of wonderful.”
The Model Apartment runs through Nov. 1 at 59E59 Theaters.