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The Baltimore Waltz

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Patrick Alparone, Lauren English, Greg Jackson

 

To the strains of the haunting zither theme from the thriller, The Third Man, our sibling protagonists stalk the movie’s mysterious anti-hero, Harry Lime. The slippery operator traffics in black market, life-saving pharmaceuticals in dark and chaotic post-World War II Vienna. The siblings are in search of a cure. Wait a minute! Was gibts? The sibling’s side of the story takes place in 1992!

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Patrick Alparone, Lauren English

So it is with the clever, engaging, and often hilarious fantasy/farce/melodrama, Paula Vogel’s The Baltimore Waltz, where appearances are not always realities, and the ending belies much of what went before it. The story draws from Vogel’s life, in which her brother died from AIDS in 1988, and that is the secret key to understanding.

Anna teaches first grade in Baltimore. Ill, she visits a doctor and finds that she has contracted ATD – Acquired Toilet Disease. The disease transmits through infected toilet seats, and death usually results. Carl, her gay brother, has just lost his job with the San Francisco Public Library. On learning of Anna’s condition, he suggests an overseas foray, in search of medications that are unapproved for use in the U.S.

As the siblings quest takes them to the capitals of Europe, madcap episodes abound, involving the siblings and an ever changing “third man.” Director Jonathan Moscone emphasizes the farcical side of the text, endowing each third man with broad accents, exaggerated appearances, and stereotypical behaviors.

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Greg Jackson, Lauren English

Anna dedicates herself to having as much sex as possible before her passing, and she marks each third man for conquest. A different bed or bench in each destination is the centerpiece of the staging, grounding each scene and providing the platform for several frantic sexual encounters. But set designer Nina Ball’s backdrop is a gateway comprised of parallel sets of translucent curtains that are variously drawn and closed. Their softness and lightness suggest an ethereal state and the transition to another world.

A constant thread throughout the story is the siblings’ relationship, and a signal behavior is the their physical closeness. They share the bed in their many hostelries, often nestling. What do we conclude from this? Are they reverting to their childhood when touching would have no sexual connotation? Are they incestuous? Or, are they merging into shared existence? See, and judge for yourself.

Lauren English is Anna, and her performance is riveting. Often the big gestures, like the frantic and funny fornication scenes, come easily. But she handles not only those, but also the reflective, inquisitive, caring, childlike, and demonstrative ones as well. Her portrayals captivate whether acting out her desire to die like Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights or demonstrating each of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief.

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Patrick Alparone, Greg Jackson.

As Carl, Patrick Alparone is effective, but in a more limited range. His character is given to bluster, effusiveness, and rage, and he conveys these emotions well. Conversely, Greg Jackson’s role as the ever-changing third man, demands great range, and he rises to the occasion. He serves as everything from physicians, to a Dutch hunk, to the eponymous The Third Man, employing all manner of gesture and accent.

The Baltimore Waltz resonated particularly well at the time of its opening when AIDS was in full force but still not well understood, and when victims of the disease were also victimized by society. In that sense, this play now serves as a historical dog-ear that should be remembered. Although its underside is set in grim reality, it offers many laughs along the way.

The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel is produced by Magic Theatre and plays at its stage at Fort Mason, 2 Marina Drive, San Francisco, through April 16, 2017.  All photos by Jennifer Reiley

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