What to make of Eva Peron? If it’s any consolation—and this is crucial to an understanding of playwright Copi’s “Eva Peron”—I don’t think the late playwright himself knew. Copi (nèe Raul Damonte) was an exiled Argentine who died of AIDS in 1987 at the age of 48. He lived and worked in Paris as a writer and cartoonist, and this helps to explain why “Eva Peron,” at times a caustic anti-Eva satire, at others a pro-Evita melodrama worthy of a Latin telenovela, is a mess. More importantly, Copi was a homosexual and his play reads like a flamboyant gay man’s love letter to the strong woman he idolizes, adoring her Prima Donna fabulosity as fiercely as he covets and resents it. This fascination and repulsion with its subject is why for most audiences “Eva Peron”—that imagines what Eva’s final hour within the Casa Rosada battling cancer might have been like—is going to feel like either the theatrical equivalent of a fun Argentine acid-trip or an unbearable stage migraine. And probably what director Beata Pilch and her hard-working cast have done with Copi’s blueprint of a script is probably all that can be done with this difficult, difficult piece—try to stage a physical production to match Copi’s scatological craziness. To that degree, this “Eva Peron” is a triumph. Filling the pre-show with beautifully edited archival footage, incorporating lyrics and song fragments from the famous musical, using extensive video and film multimedia to flesh out Copi’s thin script—in essence, creating a visceral experience, Beata seems to have taken “Evita” lyricist Tim Rice’s line “Oh, What a Circus/Oh, What a Show” to heart when approaching the script. And yet. Although the stylized acting is at times great fun—Eva (Holly Thomas) looks like Gwyneth Paltrow on heroin and sounds like a drag queen doing Kathleen Turner, Eva’s mother (Carolyn Hoerdemann) is clearly impersonating Faye Dunaway doing Joan Crawford—it feels laborious after awhile because the acting settles on commenting on its characters rather than inhabiting them, and rarely does it tap into any psychological depth. So while a great deal of time and effort has clearly gone into the minutia of staging, the production is ultimately lacking in pathos and the spectacle feels at times rather empty. Just because Copi was on the fence about Eva did not mean that this revival had to end up so. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Courtland, (773)384-0494. This production is now closed.