Paula Vogel 1951-
(Full name Paula Anne Vogel) American playwright.
The following entry presents information on Vogel's plays through 2001.
Vogel is recognized as an important American playwright. Her work explores such controversial topics as domestic abuse, homosexuality, gender roles and stereotyping, pedophilia, pornography, and AIDS. Reviewers have commended her humor, compassion, and creative approach to sensitive issues, and she has received several prestigious awards and grants for her work.
Vogel was born November 16, 1951, in Washington, DC. She received her B.A. at the Catholic University of America in 1974 and her A.B.D. from Cornell University in 1977. Her first play, Meg, was produced in Washington, DC, at the Kennedy Center in 1977. In 1979 she was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts; she subsequently taught at the American Place Theatre and Cornell University. Since 1985 she has been the head of the M.F.A. writing program at Brown University. In 1992 her most frequently produced work, The Baltimore Waltz, was staged and garnered much critical attention. Since then it has been produced in more than sixty regional theaters in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and England. She was awarded a Guggenheim Award in 1995. Vogel has received several grants and awards for her work, including a Bunting Fellowship, a McKnight Fellowship at the Playwright's Center, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and a residency at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center.
Considered her best-known work, The Baltimore Waltz is Vogel's surreal tribute to her brother, who died of AIDS in 1988. Described as a second-generation AIDS play because of its metaphorical treatment of the disease, The Baltimore Waltz centers on Anna, a young teacher who has been diagnosed with the fatal Acquired Toilet Disease (ATD), and Carl, her homosexual brother. The siblings travel to Europe where Anna, in a desperate attempt to live out her fantasies, engages in numerous sexual encounters, while Carl searches for a cure for ATD. Anna and Carl meet black marketers and medical charlatans who claim to have found a remedy. As the play progresses, however, it is revealed that the action is really set in a Baltimore hospital room where Carl is dying of AIDS and that the characters' experiences in Europe are actually products of Anna's imagination. In Hot ‘n’ Throbbing (1990), Vogel explores issues of domestic abuse and pornography through the character of Charlene. Brutalized by her estranged husband, Clyde, Charlene works as a scriptwriter for Gyno Productions, which specializes in “women's erotica,” in order to support her two children, Leslie Ann and Calvin. When Clyde breaks into her apartment, violating a restraining order against him, Charlene shoots him—only to nurse him back to health. The Mineola Twins (1997) chronicles the lives of identical twins, Myrna and Myra, who grow up during the 1950s in the suburbs of Long Island, New York. Although twins, the two women are very different; they grow up to have radically different lifestyles and outlooks on life. How I Learned to Drive (1997) garnered much attention for its portrayal of a young woman looking back on her sexual relationship with her uncle in suburban Maryland.
Critical reaction to Vogel's work has been mixed. Most commentators praise her unflinching and compassionate treatment of such controversial issues as AIDS, domestic abuse, pedophilia, and homosexuality. They note that she often rebels against theatrical and social assumptions and stereotypes, providing a new and illuminating perspective for the theatergoer: for example, in Desdemona (1980) the title character is a conniving prostitute, not the innocent girl that Shakespeare envisioned. Moreover, the critics commend Vogel's imagination and biting humor. Yet other reviewers assert that by using comedy and metaphors to explore these topics, Vogel diminishes the seriousness of drama's emotional impact. Commentators have examined the sources for and influences on Vogel's work, particularly the relationship of her Desdemona and Shakespeare's Othello. Critics also have provided feminist interpretations of her dramas.