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The Baltimore Waltz

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Denial, anger, depression, and the rest of the cards in death expert Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s deck are dealt out in sequence by Kristen Johnston’s Anna. She flounces around on a European hotel bed, drawing conclusions like “Elizabeth Kübler-Ross can sit on my face!” Silly and poignant, it’s the best scene in this revival of Paula Vogel’s chaotic 1992 AIDS play, inspired by the death of her brother Carl. A decade later, the play is still a valid indictment of the government for making the mysterious “Acquired Toilet Disease” such a low priority. But while the show succeeds as a loving tribute and political statement, as theater it’s stuck in an odd realm between rollicking farce and whimsical melodrama. Anna’s plush-rabbit-loving brother takes her to Europe for a Viennese cure, and she spends her days trying to forestall death through sex with bellboys, while he engages in secret rendezvous with other “rabbit-loving” men. A slapsticky Third Man portrays doctors, lovers, and customs agents, as well as Harry Lyme, nipped from The Third Man itself. Portentous grammar lessons about past tense, first person, and linguistic nuances string together the scenes, but the surreal and the real never quite meet, giving the play the consistency of a hospital fever dream.

The Baltimore Waltz
by Paula Vogel
At the Signature Theatre


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