By Jonny VanderSea
This year, Worcester State University’s Visual and Performing Arts Department put on The Baltimore Waltz for its Fall 2018 performance. It was performed in the Fuller Theatre from November 1 to November 4 and featured a cast of just three actors. The plot follows a pair of siblings who appear to take a trip to Europe. However, the setting of the play actually takes place in Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
The playwright, Paula Vogel, wrote this play after her brother, Carl, passed away from AIDS in 1988. Before this, Carl had asked Paula to take a European excursion with him which she declined due to pressures of time and money. She did not know her brother was ill at the time, and after his death, Vogel wrote The Baltimore Waltz in commemoration.
The story follows Anna, her brother, Carl, and a character called the Third Man. Of the Worcester State students cast, Emily Faulkner played Anna. Anna is the flighty and disorganized sister who has contracted a fatal illness, Acquired Toilet Disease (ATD), a tongue-in-cheek disease in the play that affects school teachers. Erick Lindenberger played Carl, the quintessential big brother of Anna who teams up with Anna on a fictional trip to France, Holland, and Germany. While Carl is searching for a miracle cure for his sister, Anna is pursuing pleasure. The two characters often break the fourth wall and speak to the audience explaining their thoughts and sometimes even narrating the thoughts of each other. This narration can be both comic and tragic at times. The hedonistic mission of the European excursion is for Anna to engage in casual sexual encounters with as many men as possible, all of which are played by The Third Man. The Third Man was portrayed by Nick Longo, filling the roles of a French waiter, a Dutch boy, a young German man, a doctor, and a mad scientist, amongst others.
In the performance, Emily Faulkner played Anna artfully, enunciating the desires of her character in speech and performance. Lindenberger played Carl well in a touch of comic-dramatic performance. Longo was suave and comfortable in his skin when playing these roles.
The play’s premise, however, develops into the twist in the second act. Although Anna and Carl appear to be traveling throughout Europe, Carl is, in reality, dying from AIDS in a hospital. After the midpoint, Anna shows the slides of their “European vacation.” They are actually pictures of Johns Hopkins Hospital and downtown Baltimore, Maryland. The European excursion in the play represents the vacation Anna and Carl were never able to take because of Carl’s death early on in life.
The set creatively shifted scenes throughout the play as stagehands dressed in black wheeled props around the stage. Carl is always in his pajamas throughout the play, another hint to the fact that in reality, he is ill and confined to a hospital bed. The set background was composed of several somber colors including black, blue, and grey. This was effective in conveying to the audience the gloomy tone of the situations in the play.
The actors engaged in comic vignettes to the laughter of the audience. However, there is an undertone of sadness to the Baltimore Waltz due to the serious nature of the real story behind the play. The combinations of happiness and sadness helped balance out the emotional components of the play to create a sensational, entertaining performance.