Canoe Theatre Festival: “Operation EVAsion”

Workshop West’s Canoe Theatre Festival promised “some of the season’s most interesting artists and challenging performances.” Based on the promo for Operation EVAsion, by local company Firefly Theatre, it wasn’t difficult to see why this particular play was included in the roster:

Operation EVAsion is based on the bizarre but factual account of the multiple disappearances of the corpse of Eva Perón. Upon her untimely death at age 33, her body was embalmed to the point of immortalization. Additionally, there were several duplicates made of her corpse, and in the ensuing Argentinean political turmoil, they all disappeared. Their journey lasted for 24 years and involved espionage, kidnapping, murder and astrology.

Mack and I took in the last performance on Sunday at the Timms Centre.

With such rich material to start with, I was curious to see how the company would present the story, particularly as a one-woman show (to be fair, musician Jason Kodie was also on stage, providing a auditory accompaniment in the form of an accordion). The set was black, save for a multimedia screen, ensuring the audience was transfixed on the sole performer. Annie Dugan recounted the body’s journey – through Argentina, Europe, and back – interspersing the narrative with Evita’s own words (in Spanish, with an English translation projected behind her). Evita’s corpse was wielded as a political weapon, used to maintain or regain power, or perhaps even more compelling, was the fact that after her death, she was able to affect her country’s politics (particularly among the poor, her image is still common in Argentina, often hung right next to the Virgin Mary). I did learn a lot (prior to this, the extent of my knowledge of Evita was the song “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, popularized by Madonna), but I was hoping for more interpretation, and less historical fact.

Of course, as Firefly Theatre is synonymous with aerial performances, we were looking forward to seeing how they would use movement and height. Because our only previous encounter with Firefly was their stunning, explosive display at the RISE Awards, we were unfairly expecting something similar. That said, Dugan’s restrained perimeter better matched the tone of the play, and garnered much respect – it can’t be easy delivering an hour long performance suspended several feet in the air – something she did with poise and grace. It was an ideal visual – representing the limbo status of the corpse and Evita’s elevated stature. The white fabric that suspended her was also particularly effective in parts – when used as a screen for Evita’s visage, projected next to Dugan’s own face, and as a cocoon with eerie resemblance to mummified remains.

We left the theatre with a desire to learn more about Evita (the starting place: Wikipedia, heh), and an interest to see what else Firefly Theatre might have to offer. As promised by the Canoe Festival, it was indeed an interesting performance.

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