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Theater in Motion

[whitespace] Kinetic staging keeps 'The Baltimore Waltz' moving

By Simone Stein

All over San Francisco, theater companies are creating plays you can move through, belying the staid idea of performance as something to just stare at from a fidgety distance. The Unconditional Theater's current production of The Baltimore Waltz (directed by John Warren) is one of the most impressive of these experiments, because playwright Paula Vogel's narrative never gets lost in the unique, kinetic staging. Performed in a conference room in the gorgeous Hotel Monaco, the actors utilize the entire space and the audience follows them around, resting on assorted chairs and couches or sprawling on the floor.

The Baltimore Waltz is a tragicomic allegory about a terminally ill woman, Anna, and her gay brother, Carl, on a last trip through Europe. Vogel's own brother Carl died of AIDS in 1988, and the plaintive story is about her regret over not being with him in his last days--he had asked her to take a trip to Europe with him but she, not knowing he was dying, declined. In the play, Anna has an absurd AIDS-like illness, Acquired Toilet Disease, an infection to which childless elementary school teachers are particularly susceptible. (Mocking safe sex campaigns, one character distributes leaflets for "Operation Squat" that say, "There is no known cure for Acquired Toilet Disease (ATD) right now, and we are acknowledging the urgency of this dreaded disease by recognizing it as our 82nd national health priority.)

The small cast--Wendy Wilcox, Paul Lancour and Andrew Hurteau--are remarkably graceful. Hurteau, who plays at least 10 different characters, is especially impressive. The play is nearly two hours long with no intermission, but the constant movement adds a playful, musical-chairs kind of suspense that sucks you into the story and makes the time dance by.

The Baltimore Waltz runs through June 6 with shows Thu.- Sat. 8pm. At the Hotel Monaco, 501 Geary St.; $12-$15. 415/437-5527.

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From the June 1-14, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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