Published: November 20, 2015
The University Players took audiences on a heart-rending and often hilarious trip through Europe alongside brother and sister pair Carl and Anna in “Baltimore Waltz” this weekend. The play, based on playwright Paula Vogel’s real experience with her brother’s HIV, explores the issues of family, love, sex and identity, complicated by life-threatening illness.
The play follows Anna (senior Megan Lasky), a grade school teacher who seemingly contracts the fatal “Acquired Toilet Disease” from a classroom toilet, and her brother Carl (sophomore Conor Hurley) as they appear to make a pilgrimage to Europe in search of a treatment.
On their trip, Anna turns to her sexuality in search of reprieve from the reality of sickness. Her sexual exploits span national boundaries as she makes it her mission to make up for the innocence of her life before disease. Junior Dan Mauro portrays each of the over-the-top sexual partners, which includes a French waiter with a thing for American women, a German non-conformist out to take down the bourgeoisie in the bedroom and an impressionable Dutchman decked out in giant clogs.The blatant sensual content in the play, though sexy and comical, points to a poignant statement about the body and the breakdown of the relationship between the body and the individual. Anna and Carl experience the world and each other through imperfect bodies that can create, destroy and break down completely.
“The human body is a wonderful thing. Like yours. Like mine,” Anna says. “The beauty of the body heals all the sickness, all the bad things that happen to it. And I really want you to feel this. Because if you feel it, you’ll remember it. And then maybe you’ll remember me.” Sexuality aside, the physicality of the play highlights the fragile intimacy between the siblings.
The minimal cast of only two named characters and one clown places the focus on many subtle interactions. Lasky, Hurley and Mauro proved their fabulous stage chemistry by ignoring no detail but interacting smoothly, never mechanically.
The literal closeness shared between the siblings, who sleep in the same bed, was poignant and beautiful, though at times uncomfortable. Lasky and Hurley balanced the comfort and peculiarity of the sibling dynamic to show the uncanny nature of familiar bodies made strange by pain and illness.
Minimal set pieces thrown rapidly across the stage contributed to the confused nature of illness and the hospital environment that frames the play. The score, which involved melodic music reaching a crescendo before abruptly halting, also reflected the unpredictability of the body.
The absurdist elements of the play, likewise, point to the seeming absurdity of illness, particularly AIDS, the actual subject of the play. While Anna meets with an insane, urine-drinking urologist, Carl, stuffed bunny in tow, engages in a shoot-out to the death for a cure that simply does not exist. As the story progresses, fragments of the truth leak through. Carl begs his sister not to leave him alone anymore. The two show a slideshow of vacation pictures, which couples Carl’s delightfully pretentious commentary on European art with photos from Baltimore and the inside of Johns Hopkins hospital.
After Carl’s death, the illusion shatters. The stage becomes a hospital. Carl has died of pneumonia he contracted as a result of his gutted immune system. The two never trekked further than Baltimore.
The deadpan delivery by Lasky of jokes like “missionary position does not a revolution make,” paired with Hurley’s obsession over a stuffed rabbit and juxtaposed with Mauro’s ridiculous costumes and accents helped show the reality of facing a disease that seems too horrible to be real.
The humor emphasized the poignancy of somber scenes. Sadness shone through the jokes just as humor shone through the sadness.
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