The Baltimore Waltz, Marlborough Little Theatre, Princes Street, Brighton, May 15-16 (From The Argus)
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The Baltimore Waltz, Marlborough Little Theatre, Princes Street, Brighton, May 15-16
The European tour has been a coming-of-age rite of passage for young Americans ever since the jazz age when writers, musicians and artists traversed the continent searching for intellectual enlightenment and left-wing bohemianism. F Scott Fitzgerald captured the era’s attitudes, the good times, the glitz and glamour, and his depictions of the age still resonate through society today.
In 1986, the now Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer Paula Vogel was invited by her brother on his grand European tour. Making her way in the literary world and too busy to go, she declined. Two years later he was dead. She wrote The Baltimore Waltz as a love letter to her lost sibling, says Suzy Catcliff, director of a new production of the play for Brighton Festival Fringe.
“Her brother died of an Aids-related illness,” she says, “and it was written in homage. I don’t know if he knew he was ill, but she certainly didn’t, and then of course he got ill, and he never went either.
“The message is to get on with life, to seize the moment. Carpe diem is the mantra.”
Vogel’s quick and economical story follows brother and sister Carl and Anna on an imaginary trip to Europe, but the playwright turns her real relationship with her brother on its head with Anna as the one with the illness. Vogel’s comical plotting casts her as a primary school teacher with ATD (Acquired Toilet Disease) contracted by using the bathrooms at the elementary school where she teaches. She travels in search of hedonistic pleasure and a cure for her terminal illness.
Beginning from behind the hospital curtains of a Baltimore hospital, Anna is driven by lust to sleep with as many men as possible.
“It’s extremely funny in parts,” says Suzy.
“Anna sleeps with a French waiter, a little Dutch boy who turns out to be about 50 years old and a German communist who is horrible.
“But, of course, the play concerns a terrible time in many respects. People believed you could catch Aids on toilet seats and that treating people who were HIV positive was dangerous. One character is a doctor, who, at that time, would have been considered brave for attempting to treat Anna because no one wanted to deal with the disease.”
Playing the doctor is the cast’s third member, who plays 12 characters in all, including, appositely, a role called the Third Man. It’s one of many allusions to Orson Welles and other famous figures of film scattered throughout the play, which Suzy, who has a varied CV and credits on Burt Reynolds’s latest film, says are indicative of Vogel’s excellent command of theatrical techniques and devices that move the story along.
Suzy worked as assistant director on the play’s European premiere in Harrogate in 1992, and she says it comes across best in a clear-lined and simple presentation. She has retained its atmosphere and style, but because the Marlborough’s theatre is a small space, the lighting will be stripped back.
In its place is a specially commissioned score written by Lucky Stuff Production’s musical director which really “captures the wrought emotion,” says Suzy.
* Starts 7pm, tickets cost £12/£10