Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Baltimore Waltz"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark

"The Baltimore Waltz"

by Paula Vogel
Directed by Paula Plum

Scenic Design by Janie E. Howland
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow
Costume Design by Jana Durland Howland
Sound Design by J. Haugenbuckle
Slides Photographed by Eric Sterbenk and Ann Striling
Stage Manager Susan Putnam

Anna.....................................Marjorie Zohn
Carl, her brother........................John Kuntz
Third Man/Doctor...................Richard Snee

It may be impossible to appreciate fully Paula Vogel's outlandishly funny single-act fantasy "The Baltimore Waltz" without the program note explaining that her brother died of AIDS. The Play is in part a parody of lives lived with that disease, in part a hysterical giggle at the unreal unfairness of it all. I doubt that I, who have never even had a close friend die of anything, can fully understand why everything here is so funny nor why, hidden under the bloom of comedy there is always a single thorn of pain.

The play opens and closes with Anna coming to terms with her brother Carl's death, and preparing for a tour of Europe she wishes he could take with her because he knew so many languages and cultural facts. "The problem is language," she admits, and then the whole play explodes into a dizzying spray of brief scenes wherein Anna dreams a tour partly to experience Europe, partly to find a rumored miracle cure for a fatal disease, partly for siblings to spend time lovingly close to one another again.

But the language barrier appears first not overseas but in a Baltimore hospital when a sincere, earnest doctor asked to "explain it again so I can understand" delivers a dead-pan spew of medical gibberish as though it were English. Here Vogel suddenly reverses genders so that it is Carl who is the solicitous, understanding care-giver and Anna who is dying of a new plague that kills only female primary-school teachers who had unprotected encounters with toilet seats. And there the pointed parody is off and running, on a bare, oddly angular Janie Howland set where Karen Perlow's tight light-pools isolate scenes strewn across the European map that are often over in minutes.

Paula plum, herself a gifted practitioner, chose experienced solo-performers John Kuntz and Marjorie Zohn to play Anna and Carl, who break repeatedly into monologue-like speeches directly to the audience, setting scenes, narrating, or discussing innermost feelings. It then remains for Richard Snee to weave in and out of the action stepping for a line or a scene into roles as "everyone-else" in this quicksilver send-up. He is always, effortlessly, the new person required. And as brother and sister evolve, and as their madcap dash across the continent picks up parodies of famous films and plays odd games with a child's stuffed rabbit, laughs come thick and fast.

Those, like myself, who have never accompanied a loved one through deadly disease to uneasy remission or to death will find "The Baltimore Waltz" screamingly funny and knowingly aware. Only at a sudden waltz with a corpse will the play, wordlessly, become fully clear to everyone. It lasts less than two hours, with no intermission, but its outlandish and its poignant details echo in the mind long after.


I sometimes wish that the real backstage lives of theater people actually were like "Room Service" "Lend Me A Tenor" or "Moon Over Buffalo" . All too often they are "All About Eve" . I have told Spiro Veloudos privately and tell you now that in any honestly run universe he would long since have been declared a National Treasure. After years of doing excellent shows every summer on the banks of the Charles he has become Producing Artistic Director of The Lyric Stage Company of Boston. Yet this opportunity to realize his potential came only after the company's Board of Directors suddenly, peremptorily, rancorously, and unfortunately publicly dismissed the theatre's founders in the middle of last year's season, setting in motion feuds and animosities that may never cool, making it impossible for old friends to work together in their old accustomed comfort.

I will not let the theater world I live in become, for me, a battleground. I refuse to choose sides between dedicated artists who have over the last thirty years given me so many delight-filled theatrical memories and will give me many, many more. I will not boycott a building because its very existence may be an affront to people working elsewhere. I wish to god that these people could still work comfortably and harmoniously together in each other's spaces, but I come as a friend into any theater, anywhere, and I cannot, will not do otherwise --- and I'm sure the actors who must move freely to wherever they may find work probably feel the same way.

What is a "Theatre"? Of course addresses and bricks and mortar and wood and canvas and paint and electricity and sewing and greasepaint and audiences --- yes, and names over the door, too --- are involved; but at bottom theatres aren't buildings. Theatre is made out of people. And people who make theater, wherever, will always be my friends.


The Baltimore Waltz" (till 14 March)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide