Latin America without Latinos: EVITA

Presented by North Shore Music Theatre
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Direction and Choreography – Nick Kenkel
Music Direction – Mark Hartman

September 26 – October 8, 2017
62 Dunham Road
Beverly, MA
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Essay by Craig Idlebrook

(Beverly, MA) You’re going to a play; it’s a play about a different time and a different country – Argentina, mid-century, Evita. Maybe you’re going to escape, maybe you’re going to learn something, maybe you’re going to be entertained.

North Shore Music Theatre isn’t exactly a theater known for courting controversy. It’s a solid theater that generally puts together well-produced shows; they are often shows you know. Sometimes, they are classics – earlier this season, they put on The Music Man, about a white Iowa town that was conned into collectively clutched its breast at the thought of youth being corrupted by jungle rhythms.

This production, however, got more headlines than other North Shore Music Theatre productions. You might have glanced at the articles somewhere, maybe the Globe or WBUR. A Latina activist said the leads of Evita should be Latino. She goes a step further and asks the non-Latino leads to step down from the role; they don’t. She was posting on North Shore’s Facebook page about it, and got banned; her comments disappeared.

As you drive up to the theater, you hear news of other people who have been disappeared. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has been rounding up undocumented immigrants in a big sweep today; they targeted sanctuary cities, like Boston, to send a message that nowhere is safe. All year, you’ve been hearing of pillars of the community disappearing from their communities overnight, leaving behind families and businesses. Almost all of the ones you hear about in the news are Latino.

North Shore’s owner says he is colorblind with casting; it’s something white people who feel defensive often say. He’s unapologetic about banning the Latina activist from his social media; it’s his page and he can do what he wants. He also says they aren’t allowed to ask about backgrounds of actors during auditions; you think he makes a fair point, but you wonder how any play gets cast then that’s primarily about Latino people.

This didn’t use to be a problem, at least for many white theater-goers and movie-goers. The original cast of Evita certainly wasn’t inclusive toward Latinos. The 1996 movie version of the play seemed to be a UN casting call, with Madonna playing the lead opposite Brit Jonathan Pryce and Antonio Banderas, who is magnetic, but who is also from Spain. Banderas seems to be the go-to Hispanic of nineties movies, playing an Argentine, a Mexican, and a Chilean in the span of three years.

Donald Trump is also unapologetic; this is not new, of course. He has yet to apologize for saying Mexico is sending rapists across the border. Today, the day you are going to see Evita, he is suggesting Puerto Rico is somehow responsible for its plight in the aftermath of a category 4 hurricane. He doesn’t back down, even as Spanish-speaking Americans die from lack of clean water, lack of medical help, lack of attention.

You park and make your way through a lobby full of people. You see one visible person of color in the crowd of theatergoers. The theater is half empty, unusual for a Friday night at North Shore Music Theatre, and you assume there are more people of color in the audience, but you just didn’t see them.

The performance begins with a surprise. The Greek-American actor playing Che is being replaced for the night by Corey Mosello, who has an Italian surname but who could be Latino. As you contemplate the understudy’s nationality, you might remember your Latin American studies class years back, and Argentina’s complicated history. This country sets itself apart by maintaining the strongest social ties in the region to its European colonizers. Argentina identifies strongly with Italy, and Mosello’s apparently Italian features would not seem at all out of place on the streets of Buenos Aires.

Argentina’s European roots shows how complicated the definition of Latino can be. A video recently went viral of a confrontation between a food cart owner and a man in a hurry in Los Angeles. A dispute erupted between the two, and the man in a hurry toppled the food court in anger. Both spoke Spanish, and the darker-skinned food cart owner called the fairer-skinned one a racist. The man in the hurry spat back something to the effect of “Racist? I’m Argentine.”

That tension is evident in the story on stage of the rise to power of Eva Peron, the unconventional first lady of Argentina and the best political weapon of her populist husband, President Juan Peron. It quickly becomes evident that the political struggle in this story has been, perhaps unfairly, boiled down to a class struggle between the peasants and the bourgeois of Argentina. You think again that there are Latinos in the cast, but they are not the leads, and you wonder what they think of the casting.

This is your thought process throughout the play. You try and concentrate on the art being portrayed on stage before you, and how it connects with life, but the more you do so, the less you can focus on the theatrical moment. And you realize the fundamental error of those who put this show together – this casting might have been uncontested in past decades, but it is distractingly tone-deaf in the post-Obama era, when there is a culture war afoot for the racial identity of our country.

Queen’s Addendum: So called “color-blind” casting, when used to cast white people in roles depicting People of Color (POC), erases the experiences of POCs. It negates their identities as if superfluous to the white experience. White people choosing not  to “see color” blatantly enact the racism such policies originally intended to reverse. Rather than whitewashing theatre, use such “color blind casting” to cast POCs in traditionally white roles. If there aren’t enough POCs in the audition pool to cast in your show, pick another white-centric production. It’s not as if there aren’t millions to choose from. – KD

Queen’s Note:
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.

Congressional “negotiators” released a spending bill that saves the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio until September at which time, the President and his impotent cronies may still cut arts funding. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

TCG has a list of things you can do to help.

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