Saturday, November 6, 2010

Learning through Art: HIV/AIDS & The Baltimore Waltz, Written by Paula Vogel

A few years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to see The Baltimore Waltz (in its second incarnation, so to speak), written by Paula Vogel and directed by Mark Brokaw, at the Signature Theatre, in New York City. I remember I took notes throughout the performance, trying to make sense of its subtle message--what it wasn't not spoken, but rather implied. I remember I did a lot of research, trying to figure out, to understand, before putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). The performance was mesmerizing and memorable. The experience was challenging and changing.

The review originally appeared in A&U Magazine--America's AIDS Magazine. I re-posted it below. Hope you enjoy the read. Also, hope you'll get the chance to see The Baltimore Waltz.

As always, thanks for visiting.
Alina Oswald
Author of Journeys Through Darkness

The Baltimore Waltz
Written by Paula Vogel
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Reviewed by Alina Oswald

Although much has been discovered about HIV/AIDS in the last twelve years since Paula Vogel's The Baltimore Waltz first premiered in 1992, produced by The Circle Repertory Theatre in Greenwich Village, today maybe more than ever, is the right time for a revival of the Obie award winning play because of its multiple timeless issues in tackles: AIDS is still a real part of our lives and its cure is yet to be found while the number of HIV-infected people has increased since the play was first written in 1989, only one year after Paula Vogel's brother, Carl, died of AIDS-related causes; second, today's administration gives AIDS issues similar priority as the administration of the eighties; third, as the Paul Vogel tells Signature Theatre, The Baltimore Waltz is a play not so much about AIDS, but about coping with the grief caused by the death of a brother or sister or a loved one, about learning to live and laugh again... and heal through the grieving process. 
Paula Vogel believes she can best keep her brother, Carl Vogel, alive through a play-rather than through a novel, for example-because only in a play the story takes place in present time.  Even though in real life the playwright has learnt to use past tense when talking about her brother, Carl will forever come to life, in present time, with each performance of The Baltimore Waltz. 
The revival of the play premiers this year at the Signature Theatre in New York City, as part of Paula Vogel Playwright-in-Residence 2004-2005 Season (November 16, 2004 - January 9, 2005), marking the 17th anniversary of Carl Vogel's death (January 9, 2005).
Set in the eighties, the one-act, 85-minute play uses fantasy to give a real perspective to the European trip Paula Vogel never got to take with her brother.  The Baltimore Waltz is Vogel's way of grieving her brother's death, using the satirical and at times frenzy story of an imaginary European trip of Anna (Kristen Johnston; Sex and the City) and her brother, Carl (David Marshall Grant, The Stepford Wives, television's And The Band Played On, Broadway's Angels in America for which he was nominated a Tony Award). 
When their Baltimore doctor (Jeremy Webb, Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU), tells them about Anna's fatal disease-ATD or Acquired Toilet Disease-and that his "hands are tied up by the FDA" Carl, a San Francisco public librarian decides to take his sister, an elementary school teacher, on the search for a miracle drug-giving patients to drink their own urine-of an Austrian urologist (Webb), Dr. Todesrocheln (German for "death rattle") had to offer. 
Along the trip, Anna doesn't give in to Carl's plea to spend more time with him.  Instead, she indulges in gourmet food and long-neglected sexual experiences with bell-boys (exceptionally and effortlessly played by Webb, in each case) from each country they visit (France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany), while Carl has cultural and sexual experiences of his own.  Their fantasy trip ends with Anna's coming face to dace with her alternative cure, a moment that also marks her realization of their unrealized trip and the real time truth of her brother's death.  What Carl leaves her is his childhood plushy bunny-his love-and a few brochures for the trip to Europe they never get to take-interpreted as hope in the possibility of a cure for AIDS, parallel with a possibility of Anna's future trip to Europe.  
As the play ends with Strauss' "Emperor's Waltz" uniting Carl and Anna across the life/death frontier, it leaves the audience with teary eyes and a new perception and appreciation of life and loved ones.


  1. Thanks Jessie! Glad you liked it. I remember I found myself lost in the story and notes-taking during the performance. And then the work began.

    Appreciate your comment. Hope you visit soon,