Sometimes A Snuggle is Just A Snuggle: “The Baltimore Waltz”

The Baltimore Waltz

presented by Theatre@First
by Paula Vogel
directed by Kamela Dolinova

June 20 – 29, 2013
Unity Somerville
6 William Street
Somerville, MA
Theatre@First Facebook Page

Review by Kitty Drexel

Warning: This production contains graphic but hilarious simulations of sexual acts, and bastardizations of European clichés.

(Somerville) As a playwright, Paula Vogel has the unique opportunity to dedicate herself to exploring and understanding her brother Carl’s end of life circumstances. Carl tragically died of AIDS. Rather than use the written word to metaphorically weep bitterly and openly, Vogel instead channeled her uncommon sense of humor and tender affections for Carl into The Baltimore Waltz, an ode to love, loss and healing.

In the context of the play, Anna has contracted Acquired Toilet Disease (ATD). In “real life,” outside the context of Anna’s fictional imagination, Carl has contracted AIDS. By narrating a character living with a pretend disease created for comic relief, playwright Paula Vogel examines the urgency of life through the lens of incurable disease.While her characters “dance” through a trippy, Noir-influenced trip to Europe, life as we know it continues with its disastrous choreography.

From the start of its popularity in the late 1700’s through the mid-1800’s, the good people of Vienna considered the Waltz an indecent dance. A man could press a woman close enough to his body that they could shamelessly dance cheek-to-cheek. The couple might then vigorously move together following the intensity of the beat provided by a chamber orchestra. It was the twerking of its day.

To waltz with someone means to take them into your arms, to press them close, and share a moment of intimacy. Theatre@First’s production of Waltz aims to similarly wrap its audience into the world of Baltimore-based siblings, Carl (John Olson) and Anna (Brigid Battell), as they share moments of familial intimacy.

This is a sexy and complicated play. Anna does not engage in erotic dance with her brother but she does with strangers (because she can’t with her brother? Maybe?). Anna and Carl share a sibling familiarity that prudes may consider incestual. They comfort each other by sleeping with their arms around each other. They are unconscious yet consciously sharing intimate hours together. Time spent asleep is time spent with her brother – even if Anna spends her waking hours seeking other bedfellows.

To be direct: I am friends with much of the production staff. Here are my objective observations: Battell and James Scheffler (The Third Man) are energetic; they’re just great. The staging is creative but the pacing needs tweaking. Vogel’s award winning script is fantastic. This production is a good way to see it performed. Support Community Theater; attend this production.

According to Wikipedia (ever so trustworthy), the “Viennese custom is to slightly anticipate the second beat, which conveys a faster, lighter rhythm, and also breaks (sic) of the phrase.” This is applicable to Vogel’s work because the entirety of the one act play occurs through truncated scenes. The majority of them anticipate the natural conclusion of the play. An audience member with any foresight can predict the conclusion of Waltz. The point of the show (and life, really) is to enjoy the journey as much as possible while we can.

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