When Anna (Jen Rowe), an unmarried, first grade schoolteacher, is diagnosed with the fictitious Acquired Toilet Disease (ATD), presumably contracted from an elementary school toilet seat, what on earth can be done? Nobody wants to talk about it. It’s fatal, and there is no known cure.
Profile Theatre presents Paula Vogel‘s The Baltimore Waltz, an Obie-award-winning seriocomedy, and a moving and hilarious tribute to her late brother Carl, who died of AIDS in 1988.
In a gallant effort to save her life, Anna’s brother Carl (Dan Kitrosser) whisks her off to Europe to seek a cure with the mysterious Dr. Todesrocheln, a Vienna-based urologist. “He’s somewhat unorthodox,” cautions Anna’s doctor (Joshua J. Weinstein, who as The Third Man fills many mysterious roles in this play).
Determined to enjoy her final days, Anna decides to act upon several years of suppressed lust and enjoy casual sex with a variety of men while Carl and his Bunny search for a cure. Meanwhile, back on the home front, Operation Squat is launched by the Department of Health and Human Services, which has just recognized ATD as the 82nd national health priority and the fourth major cause of death of single schoolteachers, ages 24-40.
The play moves from slapstick to horror and back again. Far from being the sick one, Anna in Europe displays a tireless vigor (who wouldn’t, with all that sex!) while her pajama-clad brother speaks with doctors and spends much of his time in the hospital bed. The mysterious Third Man alternately provides lovely French meals, is seduced by Anna, and lurks.
Grief–let’s call it the fourth character in The Baltimore Waltz–is a strange bedfellow. Once someone close dies, there is Grief. It never goes away, it merely shifts shape. In Paula Vogel’s play, we get to know Carl intimately–his wit, generosity, foibles, and courage–as she creates a medium where she can process her own grief.
Directed by Josh Hecht, the play shifts shape many times, giving the audience several levels to appreciate ranging from outright belly laughs to tears. Dan Meeker provides a stark and dreamlike set and excellent lighting design. Alex Pletcher and Sarah Gahagan designed costumes, Matt Wiens provided sound design and original music. Projections design is by Alan Cline; props design is by Danny Gray; Karen M. Hill is stage manager.
Before he died, the real Carl invited his sister to join him on a trip to Europe. She had no idea how sick he was, and put it off. Although they never took that trip together, The Baltimore Waltz conjures up what fun it could have been. More fun than spending time in a hospital room at Johns Hopkins. There is deep regret and love and a great sense of loss for someone very dear. There also is joy and humor and a salute to a life lived authentically.
The Baltimore Waltz runs through November 3 at the Imago Theatre venue, 17 SE 8th Avenue, Portland 97214. Parking is very difficult, so plan to arrive early. Profile Theatre features three playwrights during this season and next. Called “Generations!”, it brings to the stage the works of Paula Vogel, Lynn Nottage, and Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins.