'Waltz' believes laughter is medicine

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NORTH ADAMS -- Playwright Paula Vogel's brother Carl died of AIDS in the late 1980s. "The Baltimore Waltz" director Wendy Walraven believes the play was Vogel's way of dealing with her brother's death.

"It's saturated with human emotion and the process of dealing with the death of a loved one," Walraven said.

"The Baltimore Waltz," which opens Friday night at Main Street Stage, follows siblings Anne, played by Molly O. Remillard, and Carl, played by Mike Trainor, as they trek across Europe.

Along the way, they encounter several colorful characters, all played by Jack Sleigh, in search of a cure for the mysterious illness that has befallen Anne. The dreaded ATD, or Acquired Toilet Disease, is both deadly and inappropriate to talk about.

The play is a simultaneously absurd and dark comedy that satirizes the medical community and the world's behavior toward HIV/AIDS and its victims when the disease was first becoming prevalent.

"Cut down in the prime of life by a toilet seat," Anne moans after receiving her grim prognosis.

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According to Walraven, reviewers in recent years have said the play has lost its relevance because the country has adjusted its views toward HIV/AIDS and sufferers. But she disagreed, saying that the play is still highly relevant and that it's about more than the specific disease.

"This play is about the things you want to do but never got around to doing," she said.

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She also believes the play's universal themes will apply to a broad crowd, but a decent number of ‘80s pop-culture references may give the play another level of humor to those who get the references.

Because of the content, strong language and underwear-level nudity, she added, the play is recommended for adults.

"I love Paula Vogel," Main Street Stage executive director Alexia Trainor said, "and we've had ‘The Baltimore Waltz' on our shelf for a while that we wanted to do."

Trainor and the artistic committee of Main Street Stage gave Walraven total creative control, increased by the lack of stage notes for the play.

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"The script says what has to happen, but it doesn't say how it's supposed to happen," Walraven said.

Set designer Julianna Haubrich has developed a modern minimalist set that is indicative of the sterility of a hospital room.

Walraven said, "I hate it when there are long, dark set-up periods between scenes. I would rather share more with the audience than less. We're not trying to convince the audience that they're not watching a play, but showing them everything. "

The all-volunteer cast is supported by a technical crew, a rare occurrence for Walraven -- normally she finds herself doing most of the technical work -- and she's very thankful for the freedom to focus on direction.

"I'm fortunate that I have an incredible group of people to work with. It's a real collaboration," she said.


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