Evita – Never Say Cry

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Evita, Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography

A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE

I think there are too many director’s notes for Evita that go on and on about how incredibly mysterious, how very complex she was (notably, Fuzz Roark’s note for this Spotlighter’s show skips the beard scratching and just drops some actual history on us, which is appreciated).  Just one big virgin/mother/whore Rorschach, right?  But like many, many famous women, I have a feeling that she herself was probably much less complicated than the men who knew her, and the men who immortalized her for an American/British audience, imagined, fantasized, she was.  What is more fascinating to me than her inner space, actually, is the outer space she occupied as a hot body politic; she was the screen on which an entire country projected, a projection that, in some ways, continues to this day.  But, love her or hate her, you’ve got to admit, María Eva Duarte de Perón, first lady of Argentina from 1946-1952, did not suffer from impostor syndrome.  She knew who she was, she knew what she wanted and she didn’t give a shit about what it took to get her there and that, I can get behind.

Roark clearly knows and loves this material, he treats it with warmth and directs it with real power.  He clearly feels for Eva Perón, maybe more than other versions I’ve seen, which makes a considerable difference in the outcome, I think.  He also respects her, which is crucial in a play where most of the cast screams “Slut!” at her in one way or another.  I didn’t dig all of Roark’s choices, there were moments that the action appeared to just…stop (most notably during the last segments “Montage” and “Lament”).  There are also some details that are painfully overlooked (during the first moments, there is a projection that is supposed to recall a 1950s movie theater, but there is a bright blue icon from wherever it was ripped from right in the corner of the screen), but ultimately, he has a successful show, here.  It’s flying, and he has a feel for the motion of it.  I love, for instance, how he keeps finding different ways to elevate Eva: on a balcony, on a platform made from suitcases, on a shoulder – and then keeps dropping her, again and again.  Elegant.

Of course, Roark is greatly aided by his leading lady, Becca Vourvolas.  Evita, by its very nature, is a star vehicle (always was) and Vourvolas turns. it. in.  She’s instantly charismatic, which is half of the battle, and we’re in love with her from the first minute we see her.  Though I wasn’t 100% during her first big number, “Buenos Aires”, by the time we get to “I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You” Vourvolas is just doing her thing.  She has a way of completely engaging in the scene and pulling the audience in, her energy spreads over us like warm honey.  If I’m supposed to believe that this woman could seduce millions, well, I do.  She’s sexy, and sex is her product, and they buy it and so do we.  “A New Argentina” is fucking exciting and the way she plays off the ensemble, and they play off of her, is blood pumping.  Of course, she nails “On The Balcony of the Casa Rosada” (even though some awkward set positioning kinda puts baby in a corner, there).  She’s got the pathos, the drama, the actor’s flair, human vulnerability and terrifying steel of this woman.  “Rainbow High” and “Santa Evita” contrast beautifully, hella layered and really hanging together.  A brava performance.  Truly.

Eva couldn’t exist without her people, though, and I want to say a few words about the ensemble of this show.  Rarely do I see an ensemble that blends as strongly, is as balanced and an absolute joy to hear, as this one.  The group numbers, “A New Argentina”, “And The Money Kept Rollin’ In”, “Rainbow Tour” are exceptional.  Well fucking done to a group of talented, talented individuals.  The stand alones are intense and forceful, too, particularly Claire Iverson as Mistress and Lucia Keleman as Young Eva.  Bart Debicki is handsome and presidential as hell as Juan Perón, emotional, and with a killer voice, particularly in the second act’s “You Must Love Me”.  He’s just so right for it.  I think I know the direction Roark and Rob Wall were going with a more toned down, subtle Che, but it just didn’t work for me.  I mean, you’re talking about one of the most famous radical figures of all time, it’s time to fire it up.  Though Wall’s voice is pretty sublime, he was controlled when I wanted him to let go.  Che’s anger drives us through the plot, in it’s relative absence, the progression makes less sense.

Choreography by Nancy Flores was energetic, even in this tiny space where there isn’t really anywhere to go.  There was some surprisingly sophisticated tango action happening and “Waltz for Eva and Che” was just lovely.  Musical Direction from Michael Tan was pleasingly balanced and right on the money, especially since the pit was, as always, really squished in there.  I was all set to echo Achilles’ bitch the other day about costumes (Andrew Malone, Diana Haberstick, Darcy Elliot) looking too new for the time/class of the characters, but then there was that avocado suit and that white, bias cut silk gown and I started to drool and forgot what I was saying.  If there was a design aspect that really didn’t work for me, it was the set (Alan Zemla).  While there were some nice touches (the suitcases that transform into platforms come to mind), I found it mostly pretty blah.  The color story, the markered-in looking Argentinian flag, the sponge painting, the overwrought balcony.  I couldn’t get into it.  I think perhaps thinking about not being so very literal might go a long way for this company.  For instance: Everyone knows she’s on a balcony, right?  I mean, it’s the most famous scene of the play and the song title even references it.  So, does she really need to be on a like, literal balcony?  Is there another, more clever way to approach that set piece that would actually put your star center stage, as she deserves?  Just a thought.

BOTTOM LINE:  This Evita, though not absolutely impeccable, is, nevertheless, pretty splendid.  Two hours and twenty five minutes fly by as a stellar ensemble and whammingly powerful leading lady sing their hearts out.  There’s the tension, well-defined relationships and thoughtful staging that result from good direction, and it’s pretty damned pleasing to look at, too.  A win, in my book.

SECOND OPINION?

Running at Spotlighters until May 15th.

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4 comments

  • Thanks for the review TBO — a few responses from the Director
    – the film that is shown at the top of the show – is the last movie that Maria Eva Duarte made. It was never released to the public due to her relationship with Juan Peron. It is only available with the logo for licensing reasons. But, I thought that giving the audience an opportunity to view Eva Peron on the screen as she appeared to the Argentine people was important and that the logo was just, ,,, meh. Her earlier films are under very strict and expensive license contracts. So …

    When you say, “one of the most famous radical figures of all time, it’s time to fire it up” — are you referring to Che or to Eva? If you are referring to Che, then you bought the ticket sold in the 1979 Broadway show. The original character of Che was referenced to Che Guevara – the Argentine Marxist Communist guerrilla fighter, who left Argentina, fought in Boliva in the communist take over, then went to Cuba with the Castro brothers. He was a decade behind Eva Peron, and never had much involvement in Argentine politics, except to criticize the Eva Peron Foundation for providing resources to the poor and workers Unions. Rob and I took our characterization of Che, from the common use of the term Che in Argentine language. Che is used a slang greeting, meaning everything from Dude, Man, Hey You — so, we created a Che that was the “Everyman” looking at the events and commenting, narrating the story, and trying to NOT add emotion or influence. He chides Eva, when it seems she is over the top, and applauds her when she gets it right.

    The set design that Alan and I created, was based upon the Casa Rosada (the Pink House) — http://www.cronista.com/economiapolitica/La-Casa-Rosada-se-trenzo-con-el-humorista-Nik-por-Twitter-20151029-0112.html It is terra cotta pink/coral. The Balcony is a creative interpretation of the iron work balcony that was installed during Peron’s first campaign.

    The placement of the balcony on the Ramp allows for good sight lines from across the theatre – provides the playing space for multiple scenes, not just “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” — it is where Eva dismisses her various lovers, dismisses Peron’s Mistress, and Embraces the people of Argentina. It also provides a platform for Peron’s various speeches and addresses. Unfortunately working in the round creates numerous issues, including set design – we have to create pieces that double without massive movement, since we have no wings for set pieces to slide into. And, putting the balcony at center would mean that half the audience would miss half the staging on the other side of the stage. And you noticed the luggage/platforms — these have to be moved and placed in 30 seconds to create the Rainbow Pedestal, and then moved for the Foundation’s Money Keeps Rolling In. This show provides NO transition or scene change music. It was scored for the Broadway Proscenium – with massive number of stage crew and flying set pieces. It was also written with multiple ensembles – so that there were 10 each of Aristocracy, Military and Workers — I have 10 actors – playing all three ensembles and making 20 second costume changes – Thanks to Andrew Malone!

    And honestly — that is the ICONIC image Eva on the Balcony in the White Dress — that is the visual that you HAVE to create, or you loose your audience. Believe me, Alan and I worked on set design for weeks to create the most realistic and versatile looking set as possible. The Flags are Argentine Flags — the Presidential Crest, is an important image, but not available in a digitized format. So, we kinda have to create it using paints.

    Thanks for noticing the costumes. Andrew Malone is a god with costumes and wigs. He created the looks for Evita that were iconic, and yet well within our budget. I understand and appreciate the comments that often stage costumes look too fresh, and right off the production line. But, it is important to understand that with a limited costume budget of $500 or $1000 – very few theatres have the luxury of being able to find vintage pieces that show wear, or don’t show wear. Many pieces come from stock and are modified to look appropriate for the period. But – they have to survive an actor wearing them – changing in and out of them in 20 seconds – for 25-30 performances. Some of the pieces are created for a show and are brand new. Some come from vintage and thrift shops — these all have been cleaned. And to create a dirty worn look – means that the costume piece only has one role – and would likely be discarded after the production. Not something that a theatre’s budget can sustain. In this show, we tried to show variance of class with colors and fabrics that fit each status.

    In regards to Montage and Lament — I decided to use Montage in it’s definition. It is a series of clips from Eva’ life – they are not connected. These are flashes of individuals from her life – making comments, and some voicing things that others said. In Lament, I wanted to show the depth of grief at the death of Santa Evita – that 3 million people crowded into the plaza at the Casa Rosada – and crushed 8 people to death, and medical personnel was on site for the weeks of mourning. And to reveal Eva’s final comments to her people — as heard from the radio, because she was too weak (only 79 pounds) to stand on her own.

    I am very proud of this work (evidenced above) – and proud of this amazing cast. They have all researched and developed detailed characters that are REAL people – and not just the named roles – but each member of the ensemble as well. They know what they are doing and why they are doing it. The lighting, the set, the costumes are all on the same page — for the design of the show.

    Thanks for supporting small theatre – and for reviewing Evita. I just felt it was important for me to share some of the details, that the cast and I know – that often are missed. Thanks again!

  • Fuzz
    First of all congratulations on what seems to be a phenomenal production! You have certainly done the work, as any good leader would do. I was fortunate to play Peron at Tobys ( talk about your staging challenges) and tell in love with the piece. I then and there decided to Direct it some day. Unfortunately I was felled by a severe infection that left me disabled and forced me into retirement at age 52. I’m now also wheelchair bound…is Spots disability accessible at all? I did Perchik in FIDDLER and David in SEESAW there, but cannot for the life of me remember if it is.
    You were so fortunate to have Becca as you Eva, and played Ariel to my Shaw in Footloose at Toby’s and I adored our time on stage together, she is Ridiculously talented, and a really fun, kind person.
    Anyway, here’s to a great run…hope I get to experience it CHEERS! Daniel McDonald

    • Thanks Daniel – and I am so thrilled at the reviews from Bad Oracle and other outlets – they all really love the production that we mounted. As you remember, designing and directing in Spots isn’t always the easiest of places. Unfortunately until our relocation access to the Spotlighters Theatre continues to be down those 7 exterior steps — OR up 5 steps to the apartment lobby to the elevator. The only ground access is the service entrance at the rear of the building, which is usually filled with the Trash Bins, and other maintenance gear. In our future home, access will be available for everyone! I am so thrilled with the hard work that Becca has done as Eva, and also my male leads, Bart Debicki (Juan) and Rob Wall (Che) — they create a fabulous trio!

  • I’m sorry the set was not to your liking. It seems that whenever I try for simplistic, The Oracle accuses me of “Phoning it in” (a phrase used twice by Achilles Feels). And when I try for something a little more elaborate (the balcony), you want “less literal.” However, as an unpaid volunteer with no theatre design background (and I would never be so arrogant as to say that a degree was “useless, as it turns out”), I design for the Director, the cast, and the audience. And since I received positive responses from all three groups, I am fine with the work that I did. Feel free to continue to dismiss my work in future reviews, because I know that nothing that I do will ever be good enough for the Bad Oracle.

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