The Baltimore Waltz
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Barry Pineo, Fri., Nov. 10, 2000
The Baltimore Waltz: All Over the Map
Through November 12
Running Time: 1hr, 20 min
So what if the person you loved most in the world was dying? How would you deal with it? Would you deny the reality of it? Run away from it? How do the living come to terms with the fact of dying? Playwright Paula Vogel dealt with her brother's death from AIDS by imagining the opposite: that she, not her brother, was dying (from an imaginary disease called ATD -- Acquired Toilet Disease); that she, not her brother, was in need of a miracle cure. The characters in the resulting comedy, Anna and Carl, search for just such a cure on a whirlwind, sex-filled (hey, if you're dying, you might as well have fun doing it) tour through Europe.
This UT Department of Theatre & Dance production of Vogel's The Baltimore Waltz is as technically solid as they come. Set designer Jen Yung-Hsin fills the stage with large, painted and three-dimensional, mostly triangular figures covered in bright primary colors and backed by a huge, hanging air-mail envelope, stamped appropriately. Diana Duecker's lights serve not only to illuminate, but also to change the hues and shapes of the pools of color splashed across the stage. Mern Davis' costumes clearly delineate character and situation, occasionally to great comic effect, and some of the quick changes are truly impressive. The original musical score by Peglegasus is clever and situationally appropriate.
Given the great success of the production on a technical level, I've been puzzling over why it doesn't quite work. Director Johanna McKeon's staging initially doesn't make sense. Visual dramatic tension is at a minimum, with characters standing far apart from each other and sometimes in straight lines. Eventually, McKeon is forced by the script to bring the characters closer together, but even then the story doesn't captivate. The problem isn't Vogel's script, which is not brilliant but is nevertheless a solid effort. And Ben Sterling gives a virtuoso performance in the role of The Third Man, changing characters, dialects, and costumes seemingly without breaking a sweat. It falls therefore, to Ashley Neil Robinson's Carl and Amy Steiger's Anna, who never really seem to connect. They seem to want to play their roles as broadly as Sterling is allowed to, and it's simply not possible. Sterling's role is written to be all over the map, but Carl and Anna's aren't. They need to be rooted in a terrifying reality, and they aren't quite there. Sure, it's a comedy, but in the end there should be nothing funny about it.