Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Sarah's review of My Name is Rachel Corrie
Until then, it's a little like watching "The O'Reilly Factor" or "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," for all the political posing and puncturing that goes on. And this vicious atmosphere also means that (for 99% of the show) we're kept at arm's length from fully appreciating Mrs. Peron's mythic charms until her final, painful death scene. And yet, director Miller makes the cynical wait worthwhile, with a fantastic young woman playing Eva Peron (Taylor Pietz) backed up with a stable of prized stock players.
There are sweeping melodies and rock anthems, sung with beauty and power and perfect control by Ms. Pietz, with John Sparger (as the ghost of Che Guevara) and Zachary Allen Farmer (as the first in a string of jilted lovers). And all their intensity raises our hope for some kind of detailed interplay among the main characters, even as archetypal as they are. Yet even Evita's relationship with her husband (the always outstanding Todd Schaefer) seems hobbled by a defiantly two-dimensional moral landscape where (as President Peron) he can do little more than lend a loving hand to his most valuable asset, his scintillating wife. Because the far stronger bond exists in the relationship between Eva and her acolytes.
So, while we wait for the coven-like magic of the mob to bring Evita fully to life (ironically, in her puppet-like, balletic death scene), Mr. Miller and choreographer Robin Michelle Berger steadfastly entertain, as when Ms. Pietz and Mr. Sparger do a threatening little dance, like darting cobras ("Waltz for Eva and Che"), where character and issue and action and ethnicity are most perfectly blended together. But more importantly, there's a bookending device of a crowd of devoted moviegoers: soon after the show begins, a movie projector is shut off mid-reel and Mrs. Peron's death is announced, causing an extended period of weeping and wailing. Then, two hours later, these same mesmerized individuals are found in the exact same seating arrangement, projecting their own private humanity upon her as her fatal anguish is played out before them, like a three-hankie movie.
For better or worse, Rice and Webber never take the particular politics of the matter very seriously: sure, there are icons of ambition and an icon of cynicism, but no believable icons of poverty, or hopelessness or inequality, beyond the worshipful mob. And why should there be? The show is more universal when the issues are tertiary, at best. Miller does create a sort of proscenium lined with posters to remind us of our own recent would-be icons, though we may never know what single force unifies them all.
And perhaps the nature of rock opera itself brooks little or no introspection. Just as most of the songs race one into another, or into recitative, with little or no breaks for applause, there's also no time for internal conflict or deep reflection in the show. And, in a way that may be clever, that remorseless pacing lulls us into the same state of passive observance as those Argentineans, sitting there hypnotized in that movie theater.
So, the looming question remains: why are people so vulnerable to such blatant manipulation, by icons like Eva Peron or, for that matter, like Sarah Palin? The answer seems to be hidden in that theatrical bookending device itself, with all of those people sitting (together but alone) in the dark. Each one seems to build all of his or her hopes and dreams on some bright flashing images on the screen, instead of on the reality of their own lives. And, combined with Eva Peron's own rise from poverty to splendor, it makes for a shocking conclusion: such icons are born from hubris of the mob.
It's a perfect show for this moment in (North) America.
Through July 31, 2010 at the Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Rd. Park at the west entrance, a short block east of the Esquire movie theater, on the north side of the street. For information and ticket specials, call Metrotix at (314) 534-1111 or visit them online at www.newlinetheatre.com.
The New Line Band
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg