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Review: THE BALTIMORE WALTZ Is a Whimsical Journey Through Grief, Via Europe, at Profile Theatre

Review: THE BALTIMORE WALTZ Is a Whimsical Journey Through Grief, Via Europe, at Profile Theatre

When I read that Paula Vogel's THE BALTIMORE WALTZ was a film noir-inspired comedy about a fictional toilet seat disease that's a stand-in for AIDS, I had no idea what to think. What does that even mean? But on watching the show at Profile Theatre, all I could think was that this bizarre, extravagant fantasy was the only fitting way to deal with a grief too deep to bear. If you need any convincing of the healing power of theatre, this hilarious and heartbreaking production, directed by Josh Hecht, ought to do it.

Vogel wrote THE BALTIMORE WALTZ in the late 1980s following the AIDS-related death of her brother, Carl. Before knowing his diagnosis, she had declined a trip to Europe with him, so after he died, she imagined one.

In the play, Anna, a single elementary school teacher, learns she has contracted Acquired Toilet Disease (ATD), an untreatable malady that's transmitted via toilet seats and mainly affects single female elementary school teachers. Her brother, Carl, hears of a Viennese doctor advocating a highly experimental cure, so the two jet off to Europe, traipsing through Paris, Amsterdam, and Munich on their way to Vienna. The journey is filled with all manner of hedonism -- art, wine, plate-licking good meals, and a ton of hot anonymous sex.

It's a beautiful fantasy, but it's just a fantasy, and as the play progresses reality starts to force its way in. What Vogel does so brilliantly is to open your heart with laughter and then release waves of sadness so small that you hardly notice them until the climax comes and you realize you turned to emotional mush a while ago. At least, that's how it happened for me.

Even with Obie Award-winning material, this play requires an exceptional cast. This is what Profile has in Jen Rowe (Anna), Dan Kitrosser (Carl), and Joshua J. Weinstein (The Third Man, read: all other parts). Rowe is sexy, sassy, worldly, and innocent all at once, while Kitrosser is kind, earnest, and vulnerable. As the drama builds, Weinstein keeps the show firmly rooted in comedy, playing a slew of characters, from a southern TSA agent to a French waiter, a nervous German bellhop, and all of the doctors. Finding the fine balance between tragedy and melodrama is no easy feat, but all of the walk the line confidently.

Final verdict: see this show. See it for the material, see it for the acting, see it for Alan Cline's imaginative projection design, whatever. Just go.

THE BALTIMORE WALTZ runs through November 3. More details and tickets here.

For a non-theatrical take on similar themes, check out The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkhai, a finalist for this year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Photo credit: David Kinder

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