THE BALTIMORE WALTZ, Ulysses Theater Company, at Shattered Globe Theatre. Paula Vogel’s 80-minute one-act–a quirky 1991 tribute to a brother who died of AIDS–keeps tragedy at arm’s length until its abrupt and haunting ending. With a kind of gallows humor, Vogel changes their fates: Anna, a Baltimore schoolteacher, imagines that she’s suffering from incurable “Acquired Toilet Disease” and that she accompanies her brother Carl, a gay San Francisco librarian, on the journey that he was well enough to plan but not to take. On Anna’s literal guilt trip to Europe, the fantasy turns into film noir a la The Third Man: a randy patient searching for a quack cure, Anna encounters various European stereotypes–a smooth French waiter, the little Dutch boy who saved Holland, a leftist German radical. Carl prefers to visit the art museums.

But of course it’s 38-year-old Carl who dies.

Less mannered than the 1993 local premiere at Goodman Studio Theatre, this encouraging inaugural production by the Ulysses Theater Company captures the playful poignancy of Vogel’s wishful thinking. Kirsten Kelly’s cast, never so stylized that they become insincere, settle into some serious make-believe. Alternately wistful and angry, Stephen Rader’s Carl stands for many lives lost. As Anna, Jennifer Byers’s strong mix of doubt and denial maintains the character’s reality. Trey Maclin, his accents impeccable, hits every mark, from jargon-spouting doctor to romantic continental companion. –Lawrence Bommer