Play: “The Baltimore Waltz”
Group: Muddy Waters Theatre
Venue: Kranzberg Black Box Theatre, Big Brothers Big Sisters Bldg, 501 North Grand
Dates: March 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20
Tickets: $25; contact 314-799-8399 or www.muddywaterstheatre.com
Story: Anna and her brother Carl are taking a long-awaited vacation to Europe. It’s not exactly a celebration, though: Anna has been diagnosed with the dreaded ATD (Acquired Toilet Disease), which she has contracted from a toilet seat at the elementary school where she teaches. It’s a non-contagious but fatal affliction, and so the somewhat sheltered Anna decides to take that trip to Europe and to have casual sex with as many men as possible. After all, the only ‘foreign’ place she’s ever seen is Baltimore and the Johns Hopkins Medical Center.
Carl, who recently has lost his job as a librarian for the City of San Francisco library system, joins her on her frenzied quest. Oddly, Carl, who is gay, makes the sojourn dressed only in pajamas and a trenchcoat. Along the way, Anna and Carl meet a variety of bizarre men, some of whom have a peculiar similarity to characters from the classic spy film, “The Third Man.” Can Carl help his sister enjoy her final days? And why is he carrying a stuffed rabbit from city to city? What exactly is occurring?
Highlights: Paula Vogel is the literary source for the 2011 season of Muddy Waters Theatre Company, which focuses each year on the works of a single playwright. This particular effort garnered Vogel an Obie Award in 1992 for Best New American Play. The one-act comedy is brief, offbeat and whimsical as well as poignant in its homage to Vogel’s gay brother Carl, who died of AIDS in 1988.
Director Jerry McAdams keeps the Muddy Waters production sailing briskly through its series of comic vignettes and benefits from fine performances from his trio of players, who capture the essence of Vogel’s affecting script, which measures out her personal heartache concerning her brother’s death with raunchy humor that masks the tragedy beneath.
Other Info: The company makes a mistake in setting the story in “present-day Baltimore.” References to President Obama’s children just don’t make sense in the way they would have in 1990, when the story was written and originally set, because a gay man being fired while urging children to make pink triangles doesn’t have the same impact today that it did two decades ago. Why mess with the script? Perhaps it’s a bit dated now, but better to leave it in its original setting, to be appreciated for what society was like in that era.
That said, McAdams elicits some solid portrayals from Kate Frisina, Stephen Pierick and DJ Sanders. As Anna, Frisina quizzically accepts her doctor’s pronouncement of her condition, then leaps enthusiastically into a series of improbable relationships in her search for meaning. Pierick conveys Carl’s empathy for his sister’s plight with a dollop of intrigue in his conversations with a series of mysterious men. DJ Sanders dons a succession of wigs and costumes, one more ridiculous than the next, and sundry accents in his amusing portrayals of the truly strange strangers who are encountered by the daring familial duo.
Samantha Villarreal supplies the humorous wigs and makeup, Keaton Treece adds the suitably stereotypical costumes as well as the sly adornments for Anna and Carl and Rebecca Dieffenbach brings an odd assortment of props that support the plot. Scott Griffith’s lighting suits the simple set built around a mainstage bed, with background projections of real and fantasy locales that are both ironic and amusing, courtesy of Griffith and Joshua Thomas. McAdams’ sound design also adds to the impact of the story.
“The Baltimore Waltz” is a dated work in many respects, but its core charm and poignancy keep it fresh in celebration of Carl Vogel’s spirit and his sister Paula’s undying love.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.