|Eva Peron, C 1949|
Marta Induni, whose granddaughter Jackie is part of the cast of Davis Musical Theater Company’s “Evita” pulled no punches in expressing her feelings about Eva Peron. Induni is a native of Argentina and came from a very “politically aware” family. She was 15 when Juan Peron’s wife died so has many memories of her years as the first lady or Argentina.
“It was a very bad time,” she remembers. “It was the triumph of the mob. Sometimes they did some things for some people that helped them so there were lots of fanatics who really loved them and admired her.” She recalls that though Eva had been an actress, appearing in bad movies prior to her meeting with Peron, the movies were all confiscated after she became the first lady of Argentina.
“She had absolutely no taste but they got very good people to make her look presentable. All her clothes were from Dior. She had good features but she was not a beauty. She was the lady of hope, like she was the virgin Mary or something like that. But she was a whore.”
Induni is one of a handful of people from Davis’ Latin America community who are involved with the upcoming DMTC musical (Coury Murdock from Nicaragua is playing Che Guevara and George Morales of Honduras, a member of the ensemble, are two others. Daniel Silva, the concertina player, is learning the bandoneón, a particular type of concertina popular in Argentina, by Skype from a woman in Argentina). Induni feels the musical may glorify the Perons, but she thinks it has beautiful music and she was surprised at how accurately Buenos Aires, and the class distinctions of that time were portrayed in the movie.
Patricia Maccari, another member of the ensemble, grew up in Argentina and moved to Davis with her husband in 1999. She understands the Peron era from both sides because her mother’s family were among the poor who got the worst of the Peronistas and her father’s family lived in an industrial area which benefitted from the policies of Juan Peron.
“My dad’s side worked with iron and metal. They had their own workshop at the back of the house. My aunt remembers Peron and Evita’s visit to Mendosa, the area where they lived, which is a very productive industrial province. (The wine industry is big there.) Peron would build complete neighborhoods and would give the workers all these benefits. So that side of the family supported him. My grandfather was one of the workers who enjoyed the benefits of the government.”
In the musical, Che Guevara (whom Eva never met) is the one to point out all of the duplicity of the administration.
“He’s a metaphor for the far left people,” said Induni. “Peron sometimes did things that weren’t so bad, so it was hard for a very left wing person to oppose them, but at the same time he was a Nazi. It was a very strange combination of things.”
Jan Isaacson has done extensive research on how the Tim Rice-Andrew Lloyd Webber musical came to written. “It was really more Tim Rice,” she explained, saying that at the time Lloyd-Webber was busy with a musical version of Jeeves and Wooster with Alan Ayckbourn and came late to the Evita project. She explained that he initially planned to tell the story from the viewpoint of Evita’s hairdresser, until he thought Che Guevara would be more interesting than some unknown hairdresser.
Elaine Paige, the original Evita, said that the role changed her life. “Eva was a wonderful actress: strong, forceful, but with a vulnerable side.”
The vulnerable side was particularly apparent in her last days, Induni remembered. “Peron exploited her to the end. She was practically dying and he was on one occasion in a convertible and she was standing there with a fur coat and looked like a ghost. He was passing her around when she was dying.”
She remembers seeing reports about Eva’s death. “I was in high school when she died. They announced her death and they embalmed her body and put the glass-topped coffin in the lobby of the Labor Department building. All state employees had to go, like it or not. There were long queues of people. People sincerely wanted to see her. Each time somebody came to kiss the glass that covered the coffin, there was a nurse with some cotton and alcohol cleaning for the next kiss.”
When I asked Induni whether her family went to see her, she scoffed and said certainly not.
Love her or hate her, there is no denying that Eva Peron, at one time called the most powerful woman in the world, was a force to be reckoned with and, thanks to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber, it appears that her legend may live forever.