Monday, November 13, 2006

My Director's Notes

When Paula Vogel wrote “The Baltimore Waltz,” A.I.D.S. was an enormous social crisis and George Bush was President. Now, sixteen years later, A.I.D.S. is still damaging lives, and another George Bush is President. Only the middle initial has changed. And although this might be a sad commentary on social progress, it has kept the play fresh and relevant. Nothing in it feels dated and none of the words had to be changed. But this play is not really about any specific disease or political situation. This play is about love and lust and laughter. It’s how one woman chose to remember her brother who meant so much to her.

Paula Vogel encourages theatres that bring The Baltimore Waltz to life, to publish her brother Carl’s letter to her. He wrote the letter after his first bout with pneumonia in 1987. By this time she knew he was H.I.V. positive, and she also knew that they would probably never get visit Europe together. It was something they had talked about, but that Paula had turned down because of time and money. She had no idea, at the time, that Carl’s life was coming to an end.

Usually we only talk about the sad part of grieving - the sense of loss, the feeling of despair and the emptiness. But there is often another side of grief. It’s the remembrance of our most precious moments, the times we laughed and cried together and how, if we are lucky, those memories can make us smile and give us comfort for the rest of our lives.


The Letter


March 1987

Dear Paula:

I thought I would jot down some of my thoughts about the (shall we say) production values of my ceremony. Oh God . - I can hear you groaning - everybody wants to direct. Well, I want a good show, even though my role has been re­duced involuntarily from player to prop.

First, concerning the choice between a religious ceremony and a memorial service. I know the family considers my An­glican observances as irrelevant as Shinto. However, I wish prayers in some recognizably traditional form to be said, prayers that give thanks to the Creator for the gift of life and the hope of reunion. For reasons which you appreciate, I pre­fer a woman cleric, if possible, to lead the prayers. Here are two names: Phebe Coe, Epiphany Church; the Rev. Doris Mote, Holy Evangelists. Be sure to make a generous contribu­tion from the estate for the cleric.

As for the piece of me I leave behind, here are your op­tions:

1) Open casket, full drag.

2) Open casket, bum up (you’ll know where to place the

calla lillies, won’t you?).

3) Closed casket, interment with the grandparents.

4) Cremation and burial of my ashes.

5) Cremation and dispersion of my ashes in some sylvan


I would really like good music. My tastes in these matters run to the highbrow: Faure’s “Pie Jesu” from his Requiem, Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Orfeo, “La Vergine degli Angeli” from Verdi’s Forza. But my favorite song is “I Dream of Jeannie,” and 1 wouldn’t mind a spiritual like “Steal Away.” Also perhaps “Nearer My God to Thee.” Didn’t Jeannette MacDonald sing that di-vinely in San Francisco?

Finally, would you read or have read A.E. Housman’s

“Loveliest of Trees”?

Well, my dear, that’s that. Should I be lain with Grandma and Papa Ben, do stop by for a visit from year to year. And feel free to chat. You’ll find me a good listener.



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