As the houselights dim, the excitement in the air is palpable. Audience conversation is curtailed by the presence of massive murals above and to each side of us, as well as covering the stage. On the rich tapestries (in the style of Jose Clemente Orozco), we see the people of Argentina--workers and the wealthy, children, the sick, the impoverished and the military. There is no overture, instead we see a film on a huge screen which nearly covers the stage. Beyond it, the feet and sounds of the theatre patrons. The black and white film sputters to a stop and we hear catcalls and boos from the patrons. A man, silhouetted against the now empty screen, announces ..."To inform the people of Argentina that Eva Peron, spiritual leader of the nation, entered immortality at 20.25 hours today."
The screen majestically slides upstage while beaming down lights to illuminate the grief-stricken patrons. The orchestra surges into the funeral dirge and swiftly, the stage is cleared of chairs and men in white shirts solemnly lead the funeral procession onstage and open the coffin. The mourners move in a hesitation step samba past the coffin, some crossing themselves, others, hysterical, throwing themselves on the bier. Documentary newreel footage of the actual funeral procession fills the screen. Into this, weaves a cigar smoking, fatigue-garbed man, who looks into the coffin, then moves downstage to confront the audience. 'Sing You Fools,' is his reaction to the crowd, Oh What a Circus his observation to the audience. He informs us the glitzy years of Eva's rule were empty ones for the country. This all-purpose revolutionary is Che Guevara, who will strip the Peron years of their glamour, exposing the crawling corruption beneath.
Suddenly it is 1935 and the evening light is fading outside a tawdry cafe in Junin, Argentina. A well-known tango singer, Agustin Magaldi, is finishing his act (On This Night of a Thousand Stars) to the boredom of the patrons except for 15-year-old Eva Duarte, her three sisters and brother. Eva works her charms on him, and in nothing flat, Magaldi finds himself with her suitcase in his arms, taking Eva to Buenos Aires. Eva's first look at the big city is passionate. She knew it would be like this. At last, the possibilities are endless. Through a clever revolving door (with a mattress on one side) the next few years are encapsuled in a procession of lovers passing through, leaving an ever-more glamorous Eva, ending with her in a stunning white ostrich-feather peignoir and better and better-dressed men exiting her boudoir.
During this cynical spectacle, Che is there to comment caustically on each step upward. He is Everyman, the Stage Manager and Greek Chorus. (Guevara never met Eva, but he was Argentine, from a staunchly liberal family.)
Meanwhile, Juan Peron survives a ruthless game of musical rocking chairs (The Art of the Possible) with the rest of the G.O.U. colonels and becomes a power in the new government. He's the principal speaker at a Charity Concert (brilliantly staged facing into the wings, so we can see the intricate maneuvering behind the scenes), where he and Eva meet, calculatingly appraise each other, and each decides I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You. Eva ruthlessly tosses out Peron's nubile mistress du jour, who sings the plaintive Another Suitcase In Another Hall.
As Eva and Peron move toward the top of the power structure, two groups take notice--the offended army, and the aristocrats, who have been ousted from power. The two groups interweave on the stage with menace, but with no power to stop the couple (Peron's Latest Flame). Now installed in the luxury of Peron's colonel's quarters, a glamorous Eva in a cream satin robe convinces the faltering Juan to take control (A New Argentina) because he has the workers on his side. And suddenly, there they are--surrounding the lush bed with signs, banners and flaming torches to proclaim their support.
Act 2 begins with The balcony pushed way downstage, the screen behind it projecting the facade of the Casa Rosada. A crowd below is getting revved up by Peron on the balcony. Che gets in one comment "One has to admire the stage management" before being mugged and dragged offstage by Peron's henchmen. Then everything stills and the crowd calls, 'Evita, Evita,' and she emerges, resplendent in a glittering white ball gown and tells the people she loves them (Don't Cry for Me Argentina). After the song but before her speech, we get a glimpse behind the scenes as the center of the balcony revolves, the people move to the other side, the monstrous crowd is shown on the screen. It revolves again, and Eve delivers her rabble-rousing speech. She and Peron are now married and he is the president of Argentina. When it's all over, Eva deals with one voice of dissent and then undresses and sits at her vanity (facing upstage) as Che asks her what now (High Flying, Adored)? It's fascinating to watch her in repose (the only time we'll see her that way), but her self contemplation becomes self confidence and she finishes the song for him with a verse showing her determination and ambition.
She dresses (Rainbow High) for her Rainbow Tour, and leaves while Peron and his 'yes' men watch newsreel footage of the tour projected on the screen. As Eva's reception in Europe falters, Peron is more preoccupied by the two little cuties he's bouncing on his knees. The consensus is 'yes' and 'no' but no one cares, really. She comes back as the sleek, all-business, ruthless Eva, who has built a shield to protect her from slings and arrows. Che questions her motives, but she says, "Everything done will be justified by my foundation" and the scene segues into The Money Keeps Rolling In (and Out) as Eva dispenses cash and other goods to the poor. Che notes that though the foundation funds are growing, so is Juan and Eva's Swiss bank account. The aristocrats appear for one more try to oust her, and she has her goons undress them, turning them into the poor. After a staged religious tribute (Santa Evita), Che observes, "Get them while they're young, Evita. Get them while they're young."
This time, she whirls and confronts him and they berate each other as they do a waltz macabre (Waltz for Eva and Che), never touching, but with this electricity connecting them. No one wins as she tells him to get on his bus, then cries to God about her deteriorating physical health. Peron reminds the officers Eva's kept them where they are (Dice are Rolling). It's a shock to see a withered, shriveled Eva in her and Juan's adjoining bedrooms while she begs to be made vice president, because "I'm not that ill..." but Juan bluntly informs her she's dying. He slams the door between them, then comes in when she collapses onto the floor. He looks in the hall and swiftly closes the door so no one will see. Eva goes on the radio (Eva's Final Broadcast) to decline the nomination officially, then sees visions of her triumphs pass her, mockingly, on the stage. She's helped to a hospital bed by a nurse and sings of her dreams (Lament) and dies. The embalmers move in, Che emerges to stare at Peron, who leaves, realizing he's got to find some way to stop the erosion of his power base now that Eva's gone, and Che tells us "A monument to Eva was planned, but never completed, Peron was ousted three years later, and Eva's body disappeared for 17 years."
© 1981 by Sylvia Stoddard.
- Sylvia Stoddard ([email protected])