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Eva Peron: theory of a lost year

August 15, 2003|Philip Brandes;Daryl H. Miller;David C. Nichols

Did you know that before the prominent political marriage that got her enshrined as an Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical icon, Eva Peron did a stint as a pawn of Argentine Nazis, followed by a political and romantic alliance with Jewish crusaders?

Busy gal -- or so playwright Jorge Albertella asks us to accept as the premise of his speculative historical drama, "Eva Peron and the Fourth Reich," at Hollywood's Los Angeles Jewish Theatre. Weaving together isolated snippets of historical fact, the play offers a wild theory about Eva's mysterious one-year disappearance in 1943, at the height of the acting fame she'd worked so hard to attain.

It was also during this period that many Nazis sought refuge in Argentina. Linking the two circumstances in the play is a present-day inquiry in which a troubled American journalist (Steve Reisberg) interviews an elderly Argentine survivor of that turbulent period (Eve Sigall) -- a familiar framing device enlivened by some energetic sparring between the two (who naturally have hidden personal connections to the story).

In flashbacks, we watch the strikingly untalented but hugely ambitious actress Eva Duarte (June Marie) as she's manipulated by sinister entrepreneur Fritz Mandl (a smoldering, venomous Andy Brendle).

Mandl, the ex-husband of Hedy Lamarr (they divorced over his Nazi beliefs) offers Eva a career boost and an introduction to a rising politician in exchange for help escorting "European immigrants" into the country.

Eva's moral conscience is later restored by a sympathetic fellow actress (nice work from Jerri Tubbs) and -- less convincingly -- a fiery Jewish activist (Yuri Lowenthal) whose principal strategy of persuasion is to berate her. Naturally, she falls in love with him.

Though all this is loosely grounded in real-life characters and events, the effort to tie them together into a coherent story is so labored and exposition-heavy that the intermittent moments of gripping human drama seem more like afterthoughts than the play's emotional core.

-- Philip Brandes

"Eva Peron and the Fourth Reich," Los Angeles Jewish Theatre, 1528 N. Gordon St., Hollywood. Thursdays, Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Sept. 14. $20. (310) 967-1352 or (323) 466-0179. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

*

A lot of talking at a seaside bar

A heavy seas advisory is broadcast over a radio in a coastal bar, prompting one of the regulars, already well on his way to oblivion, to observe that the watering hole is like a safe harbor -- "a place of refuge for vulnerable human vessels."

There's a whiff of Tennessee Williams' earlier poetry in that phrase, but too little else in the 1972 play "Small Craft Warnings" rises above the pedestrian. An ambitious but uneven production by a coalition of New Orleans and Los Angeles theater artists -- presented in the large lobby/rumpus room at the Evidence Room -- fails to make a case for pulling this curiosity off of the library shelf and putting it onstage.

The play was expanded from a shorter piece called "Confessional," a title that's more to the point, since much of the text is presented in revelatory monologues. That's an awfully static way to deliver information and, try as it might, the current presentation, directed by Stacey Arton, can't transcend the structural limitations.

The most talkative of the Southern California bar's regulars is Leona (Maggie Eldred), a beautician who wishes she could beautify her disappointing life. At once self-aware and self-deluding, she seeks comfort in the oversexed Bill (Randy Irwin), who in turn cozies up to the fragile Violet (Wendy Johnson). Violet's sort-of boyfriend, Steve (John Fleck), reels drunkenly between her and the bar, where the establishment's quiet owner, Monk (Don Oscar Smith), serves drink after drink to Doc (Doug Barden), a physician who has lost his license.

Two more customers wander in by chance: Quentin (Travis Michael Holder), a middle-aged screenwriter who has picked up Bobby (Jerry Turner), a youth fresh out of Iowa. By this point in his career, Williams was becoming increasingly open about homosexuality, and in these characters he depicts two generations of gay men: from the pre-liberation era of furtiveness and from the then-newly emergent age of openness.

Holder and Turner deliver their monologues -- the script's most poetic and insightful passages -- with grace, while Johnson conveys Violet's frayed dignity with beautiful understatement. The normally wonderful Fleck, however, turns in a frenetic performance that misguidedly attempts to pump some levity into the proceedings.

In "Small Craft Warnings," it is particularly easy to see facets of Williams' personality divided among the characters. But this crowd is so pathetic that perhaps we don't want to look too closely.

-- Daryl H. Miller

"Small Craft Warnings," the Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends Sept. 7. $20. (213) 381-7118. Running time: 2 hours.

*

A poignant look at the elderly

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