by Beverly Creasey
When Paula Vogel wrote The Baltimore Waltz it was an act --- actually a long one-act --- of defiance. The 1988 comedy was a daring piece of satire, a slap in the face to President Reagan and his stonewalling on AIDS research ... research which might have helped Vogels own brother. The play is actually a valentine to her brother, When we watched The Baltimore Waltz back then, we felt her righteous indignation. Take that, you right-wing bastards!
As we all Now know, the folks in Washington Did sit on the funding until their own sons were involved. Alas, watching the play in 1999 --- in a nifty little production at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston --- the play seems dated and out of touch. It makes me sad to have to say so, very sad indeed. Oh, the play is still funny, but the sting is out of it and the jokes are old. Sexual cavorting, it seems, is old hat. Still, Paula Plums production zips right along even with a zillion scene changes (thirty scenes is more like it) and it still has lots of laughs.
The three-character play has many pleasures: J. Hagenbuckles choice of music to set each scene (like wonderful Brecht/Weill songs); Janie Howlands minimalist chic set, and Karen Perlows soft, evocative lighting --- especially in the handsome last waltz. Jana Durland Howlands costumes are amusing all by themselves and elegant in that last scene when John Kuntz waltzes in a spiffy cadets uniform with his sister (Marjorie Zohn). Kuntz is so associated with comedy that you forget his leading-man potential. Although he does get to be silly in The Baltimore Waltz hes not the comedian of the piece. That task falls to Richard Snee who gives a tour de force performance as all the zany people Kuntz and Zohn meet on their madcap trip to Europe. My faves were Snees disdainful French waiter, the German who is a dead ringer for filmmaker Fassbinder, and his third man disguised as Dr. Strangelove.
Even though taking swipes at Ronald Reagan was much more fun back in the late 80s, The Baltimore Waltz still has its comic rewards. And the gorgeous last scene is worth the price of admission.