Monthly Archive for: ‘March, 2017’

‘Baltimore Waltz’ a most rewarding dance

When Paula Vogel’s 1989 “The Baltimore Waltz” had its West Coast premiere at the Magic Theatre in 1992, the nation, especially San Francisco, was still reeling from the devastation of AIDS. Now, 25 years later, the Magic is reviving it as part of its 50th anniversary season.

The play honor’s Vogel’s gay brother, Carl, who died of AIDS in 1988. Two years older than she, he was a children’s librarian in San Francisco.

He had wanted her to join him on a trip to Europe, but it never happened. Instead, “The Baltimore Waltz” looks at what would have happened on such a trip, but it all takes place in the imagination of the sister, Anna (Lauren English), in the waiting room of a Baltimore hospital.

It turns the tables with Anna rather than Carl (Patrick Alparone) suffering from a fatal disease called ATD, or acquired toilet disease, which tends to strike elementary school teachers, like Anna, who use their students’ toilets.

Because Anna still feels well, they embark upon their trip. While Carl takes in the sights, especially the museums, Anna beds every man she can. These men and all others in the play are portrayed by Greg Jackson, called The Third Man.

One of those other men is Harry Lime (an apparent reference to a character played by Orson Welles in the 1949 film “The Third Man’). Harry is Carl’s friend, but he becomes increasingly sinister as he trails the siblings.

He wants the stuffed rabbit that Carl has carried since childhood (his parents wouldn’t let him play with Anna’s dolls). Much has been made of the rabbit’s meaning, but it seems to represent Carl’s being, eventually snatched away by Harry, who symbolizes death.

Although the play was a way for Vogel to deal with her grief, it’s also very funny in places. For example, when the siblings hear the doctor’s diagnosis of her illness, he couches it in rapid, incomprehensible medspeak. No wonder Anna says early in the play, referring to foreign travel, “the language terrifies me.”

Another part of the enjoyment comes from the Jonathan Moscone’s direction. Aided by a simple set by Nina Ball, scenes change swiftly, orchestrated by the actors as well as two women stagehands who slyly become part of the acton.

Meg Neville’s costumes for the siblings are simple. He wears a trench coat or suit jacket over pajamas, while she wears a trench coat over a black slip. Always wearing gloves, The Third Man adds various hats and accessories for his characters. The funniest is the filthy white jacket he wears as Dr. Todesrocheln, the Viennese quack urologist who advocates a highly unorthodox treatment for ATD.

All three actors fully inhabit their roles.English and Alparone are especially endearing as Anna and Carl, while Jackson displays wide versatility as The Third Man.

Completing the design team are Heather Gilbert for lighting and Theodore J. Hulsker for sound.

Running about 90 minutes without intermission, “The Baltimore Waltz” is a highly entertaining dance.

It will continue through April 16 at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason, Building D, San Francisco. For tickets and information, call (415) 441-8822 or visit


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