Tuesday, March 11, 2008


From: The Miami Herald

Date: May 7, 1994

Author: Christine Dolan

Paula Vogel's The Baltimore Waltz, a work born of guilt and sorrow, is one of the two funniest AIDS plays ever written (Paul Rudnick's Jeffrey being the other).

John Rodaz's production of Waltz, newly opened at Area Stage on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, isn't just amusing. It's riotous. And without going into details (because the moment defies description), anyone who sees Area's Baltimore Waltz will never again be able to hear the word "encore" without smirking.

When Vogel's brother Carl asked her to go with him to Europe in 1986, she turned him down, saying she couldn't afford it. What she didn't know was that Carl had learned he was HIV- positive. By the beginning of 1988, he was dead.

The Baltimore Waltz is the trip the brother and sister never took, an extravagantly imaginative allegory that Rodaz has his three actors play in a fevered frenzy. Though it begins and ends realistically -- the play's Carl (Jerry Pacific) meets the same fate as Vogel's brother -- the bulk of the play is a role- reversed romp.

In this wild dream, Carl's sister Anna (Phebe Finn), an elementary schoolteacher, discovers she has a fatal illness called ATD -- Acquired Toilet Disease, a growing epidemic among single female teachers. She also learns that the disease can't be transmitted sexually, so when Carl takes her to Europe in search of a cure, Anna vows to give herself over to every appealing sexual opportunity that comes her way.

And do they. She beds a snooty French waiter (who pronounces "Diet Pepsi" so that it comes out "Dee-it Bep-see"), a virginal German bellboy, the former Little Dutch Boy (gone soft with middle age), and a German radical, all played lustily (and with perfect accents) by Chaz Mena.

Mena also plays the mysterious Harry Lime (there are a number of allusions to Orson Welles' The Third Man, all pretty meaningless if you're not up on the film) and the insane Dr. Todesrcheln (the name translates as "deathgasp"), a quack who makes ATD patients drink their own urine. In the showiest acting assignment, Mena is fabulous.

Finn and Pacific are both strong, funny and very sympathetic. No matter how absurd the turns of Vogel's script, the two actors never let you forget the life-and-death struggle that underlies it.

Rodaz, who has directed sensitively and with a wild comic touch, also did the colorful lighting and the Magritte-inspired set, which communicates instantly that the journey you're about to take involves fantasy. Steve Shapiro's sound and original score (with its homage to The Third Man ) make the journey much more vivid.

Laughter, at the very least, offers a necessary respite
from sorrow. The Baltimore Waltz is no dance of death, but rather a celebration of a bond that transcends time and mortality.

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