Staged reading conveys personal narrative with warmth, insight

Junior Brodie McPherson directed a staged reading of Paula Vogel’s “The Baltimore Waltz” on Thursday Oct. 29 in the Robert Sinclair Theatre. The play was centered on the developing relationship of a brother and sister dealing with a tragic illness. The play starred some familiar faces from past staged readings on campus. Senior Lea Pandoliano—who played Anna—and McPherson both starred in “Death and the Maiden.” Additionally, sophomore Clayton Smith—who played the “third man”—was also in “Mr. Marmalade” earlier this semester.

New to the staged readings and Geneseo productions was freshman Sean Ryan, who played Anna’s brother Carl. Transfer student sophomore Maria Cento—who played the narrator—was another fresh face for Geneseo staged readings.

In “The Baltimore Waltz,” Anna and Carl travel around Europe looking for a doctor in Vienna who could help Anna with her imaginary “Acquired Toilet Disease.” It was not until the end of the play that it is revealed that Carl was in fact ill while Anna was simply living the plot in her imagination.

As the “third man,” Smith was just about every character that Anna and Carl encountered on their journey. Smith comically played characters from different countries, expertly speaking in various European accents like French and Dutch.

During the question and answer portion that followed the reading, one audience member asked Smith about how he was able to learn and produce such accents. “I always liked doing accents for fun, so that helped,” Smith said. “I would say definitely just going about watching videos on how to do accents.” Smith also added that the comfort of slipping into accents and different characters came from his experience in improvisational comedy, which helped him to perform as a versatile character in this production.

McPherson discussed the background of the play and how it echoed the reality of the playwright’s life, since Vogel’s own brother Carl was diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s. Before his death, he wrote to his sister requesting that she go on a trip with him to Europe. Unaware of his illness, she turned him down. When he passed away in 1988, she deeply regretted her decision.

“The Baltimore Waltz” is Vogel’s tribute to her brother. “I think the main point is that it’s a very cathartic experience for Paula Vogel to write this,” McPherson said. “It gives her a chance to experience something that she wasn’t able to with her brother.”

“[Anna’s] brother and the ‘third man’ are all these different people in her head and this is how she’s dealing with what has happened—her brother’s death,” Pandoliano said.

According to McPherson, what drew him to choose “The Baltimore Waltz” was that “I think I really fell in love with the fact that it’s very different from the other plays about AIDS that I have experienced.”

“I’m really glad I did this [play],” McPherson said. “It was a really fun experience. It was a lot, but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Although the content of the play may have been difficult or sensitive to deal with, McPherson—along with the help of his student actors—produced a comical and enjoyable presentation of Vogel’s melancholic play.