If The Baltimore Waltz, an early work by Paula Vogel, sounds playful and a bit off the rails – well, it often is. Vogel suffuses this work with comic banter, funny episodes, and a whole lot of sex. It’s sure to charm even the steeliest of audience members, but that’s only one side of the coin. The Baltimore Waltz is also part eulogy and personal reckoning. It’s a tear-stained love letter to Vogel’s brother, one of the countless victims of the AIDS epidemic. First staged in 1992, Vogel’s work remains a scathing indictment of the government’s indifference toward AIDS and the accompanying stigmatization caused by lack of research and public knowledge.
[Brianna] Letourneau has bouts of unexpected brilliance as Anna: the schoolteacher sexually liberated by impending death. Her best scenes are her intimate monologues, which reveal the character’s childlike nature away from the defense mechanisms and gendered expectations of her imaginary European tour. The scene when she enlists the help of “Mr. Left and Mr. Right,” two hand puppets that she uses as to distract her and pass time, stands out.
The Baltimore Waltz is an ambitious piece of theater, fusing melodrama with farce and wish fulfillment with stark reality, in an impressively short length (the play runs 90 minutes). With work so dense and conceptually challenging, and with a payoff after the final twist that will melt your heart, it’s hard not to appreciate any staging effort. Director Susan Maria Rhea’s production is certainly attuned to what makes Vogel’s play stand out from other politically-minded postmodern works of the era