By Nicole Chow
New York, NY
Anxious breathing in the waiting room. A monologue uncovering emotions. Quaky legs locked in nervousness. This is how the character Anna opens Princeton Summer Theater’s production of ‘The Baltimore Waltz,’ a play by Paula Vogel.
Anna is waiting for the diagnosis of her brother, who has AIDS. Vogel, whose brother died of AIDS, based the play on real life events. But in a twist, Anna and Carl switch perspectives in the play. Anna becomes the one who’s contracted a strange illness—ATD: Acquired Toilet Disease—which she supposedly caught from using a public bathroom while teaching in a elementary school.
The two characters go on an adventure around Europe, where Anna goes on a sexual spree. This sexual desire comes from one of the stages of coping with the acknowledgement of your own death—lust. The first night they arrive in Paris, Anna starts to face these stages. At one point, she begins to fantasize about the idea of death, standing in the middle of the stage with gloomy light and a soft presence. “This is how I’d like to die, with dignity,” she said.
The play was marvelously performed by Abby Melick, Sean Peter Drohan and Evan Gedrich. From the acting to the technical elements like lighting, sound and stage design, the play was impeccable in every sense. Sure, there were stutters, maybe a couple, but the level of professionalism and meticulous movement was impressive. I was sitting dead center, seat 105, and let me tell you, it was the best seat in the house. From that point of view, I was in the middle of it all. I was the dream the characters looked up to, the audience they spoke with. Every placement and movement of each actor was strategic and poetic. The lights and the colors illuminated the stage as so that it illustrated the mind of the characters. The music served to set the time and feeling, the unimaginable beat of the moment. Whenever two characters stood in center stage, the beautiful imagery would remind me how important angles are in a story, both physical and mental.
There are symbols in this play, most prominently stuffed bunnies, one of which Carl seems too attached to. Carl and another character smuggle bunnies here and there, hiding something inside of each—not quite drugs, but meaning. But what are they trying to keep and hold so dearly on to? Is it life and hope? Drugs? Health? A cure?
Running into the hospital room, jumping into the bed and screaming for help, Anna begins to end the play, revealing that everything that took place after her and her brother switched perspectives isn’t part of the real world; it relied on Anna’s mind and her fantasies.
The play ends with Anna and Carl dancing a waltz, him in a suit and her in the only piece of clothing she’s been wearing throughout the whole story—swift and energetic moves, parallel to the way they lived, yet so full of love and tenderness.