Friday, March 31, 2017

The Baltimore Waltz: ☼ ☼

Paula Vogel began writing "The Baltimore Waltz" in 1989 as a sister's remembrance of her brother Carl, who died of AIDS in the 1980s. The show premiered at the Magic Theatre in 1992. On top of being a memoir to her brother, it is also a farcical, magical-realism look at the medical snakepit of those early days of AIDS research.

The show is directed by Jonathan Moscone, but it does not have the power in 2017 that it had in in 1992. The 1980s and 1990s, the dreaded Baby Days of AIDS when fear was the dominant emotion, have become the 2000 Teens when people with money and access to AIDS drug-cocktails no longer need succumb to this disease. Yes. thousands still suffer and die around the globe, but this story is about middle-class Americans from Baltimore. So for it to work on a visceral level we need to be involved with the characters in the story. Sadly, with all the high-jinks and reversals of roles, plus the unfortunate decision to speak to the audience as if it is 2017 (example: in the above photo, Lauren English (center) says, "Where am I, in an HMO?") we have far less emotional stake in the lives of our characters. Certainly less than we may have had in 1992.

Lauren English plays Anna, Patrick Alparone her brother Carl and Greg Jackson all the other roles. Jackson is terrific in the same way he was playing the multiple roles in "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Marriage," English uses evocative facial expressions to display her many internal struggles and Alparone is an excellent actor but he is also straight-jacketed by the audience's realization right off the bat that these characters are only pretending.

There are symbols spread throughout the show (such as the rather inexplicable stuffed rabbit) that will resonate with many in the audience. But inconsistencies make these signals confusing -- why did Carl have to hand the rabbit to Anna when they are going through customs? We figured there was some kind of metal inside it, but perhaps that is because we are watching this show twenty-five years after its premiere.

And what is with the Nazi-era black-gloved hand of the Austrian doctor? Does anybody really think this stuff is funny any more?

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division gives Two Stars to "The Baltimore Waltz."  (This places the show below The Julie Andrews Line -- see ratings bar to right for explanation.)

Paula Vogel wrote a moving theatrical epitaph to her brother twenty-five years ago that still carries a lot of angst with it. Missing those who have gone before us never goes out of style.

"The Baltimore Waltz"
The Magic Theatre
Fort Mason, Building D
Buchanan at Bay, San Francisco
Through April 16

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