"The Baltimore Waltz" Themes and Characters

Paula Vogel's Comedy-Drama

A performance of "The Baltimore Waltz"
Katie Simmons-Barth Photography, WikiCommons

The story of The Baltimore Waltz's development is as fascinating as the creative product. In the late 1980s, Paula's brother discovered he was HIV positive. He had asked his sister to join him on a trip through Europe, but Paula Vogel was not able to make the journey. When she later discovered that her brother was dying, she obviously regretted not taking the trip, to say the least. After Carl's death, the playwright wrote The Baltimore Waltz, an imaginative romp from Paris through Germany. The first part of their journey together feels like bubbly, adolescent silliness. But things become more foreboding, mysteriously sinister, and ultimately down-to-earth as Paula's flight of fancy must eventually deal with the reality of her brother's death.

In the author's notes, Paula Vogel gives directors and producers permission to reprint a farewell letter written by Paula's brother, Carl Vogel. He wrote the letter a few months before dying of AIDS-related pneumonia. Despite the sad circumstances, the letter is upbeat and humorous, providing instructions for his own memorial service. Among the options for his service: "Open casket, full drag." The letter reveals the flamboyant nature of Carl as well as his adoration for his sister. It sets the perfect tone for The Baltimore Waltz.

Autobiographical Play

The protagonist in The Baltimore Waltz is named Ann, but she seems to be the thinly veiled alter-ego of the playwright. At the play's beginning, she contracts a fictional (and funny) disease called ATD: "Acquired Toilet Disease." She obtains it by simply sitting on a children's toilet. Once Ann learns that the disease is fatal, she decides to travel to Europe with her brother Carl, who speaks several languages fluently, and who also carries a toy bunny everywhere he goes.

The disease is a parody of AIDS, but Vogel is not making light of the disease. On the contrary, by creating a comical, imaginary illness (which the sister contracts instead of the brother), Ann/Paula is able to temporarily escape from reality.

Ann Sleeps Around

With only a few months left to live, Ann decides to throw caution to the wind and sleep with lots of men. As they travel through France, Holland, and Germany, Ann finds a different lover in each country. She rationalizes that of one of the stages of accepting death includes "lust."

She and her brother visit museums and restaurants, but Ann spends more time seducing waiters, and revolutionaries, virgins, and a 50-year old "Little Dutch Boy." Carl doesn't mind her trysts until they severely intrude on their time together. Why does Ann sleep around so much? Aside from a last series of pleasurable flings, she seems to be searching (and failing to find) intimacy. It's also interesting to note the sharp contrast between AIDS and the fictional ATD – the latter is not a communicable disease, and the character of Ann takes advantage of this.

Carl Carries a Bunny

There are many quirks in Paula Vogel's The Baltimore Waltz, but the stuffed bunny rabbit is the quirkiest. Carl brings the bunny along for the ride because at the request of a mysterious "Third Man" (derived from the film-noir classic of the same title). It seems that Carl hopes to purchase a potential "miracle drug" for his sister, and he is willing to exchange his most precious childhood possession.

The Third Man and Other Characters

The most challenging (and entertaining role) is the Third Man character, who plays a doctor, a waiter, and about a dozen other parts. As he takes on each new character, the plot becomes more entrenched in the madcap, pseudo-Hitchcockian style. The more nonsensical the storyline becomes, the more we realize that this entire "waltz" is Ann's way of dancing around the truth: She will lose her brother by the end of the play.

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Bradford, Wade. ""The Baltimore Waltz" Themes and Characters." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/the-baltimore-waltz-themes-characters-2713474. Bradford, Wade. (2020, August 28). "The Baltimore Waltz" Themes and Characters. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-baltimore-waltz-themes-characters-2713474 Bradford, Wade. ""The Baltimore Waltz" Themes and Characters." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-baltimore-waltz-themes-characters-2713474 (accessed June 1, 2023).