Juan, Singular Sensation: A Tour of Michael Cerveris' Peronist History Archive, Backstage at Evita

By Michael T. Luongo
13 Jan 2013

An Argentine flag and other notes hang from the wall of Cerveris' dressing room.
Photo by Michael Luongo
I first heard of Cerveris' extensive collection from Gabriel Miremont, the curator of Buenos Aires' Museo Evita after he came for his own backstage tour last September. He was impressed by the range of Cerveris' objects and his well-researched knowledge of the historical figure he plays.

Being an Evita and Peron buff myself, I wanted to see the collection first-hand. The visit is also an opportunity to hear some of Cerveris' thoughts as the show gets set to close on Jan. 26.

Through the visit, Cerveris lifts objects from shelves and tables, all the while pointing out images framed on the walls. He tells me the LP of speeches by Juan and Eva was sent to him by Nicolás Damin, an historian with the Instituto Nacional Juan Domingo Perón, a museum and research center in Buenos Aires. Damin had spent five hours with Cerveris, teaching him about the man he would become on stage. Looking back, Cerveris said, "He's obviously a staunch Peronist supporter, but he is also aware of the criticism as well. And he was very helpful in giving me a whole huge context of the man, and the society and the whole history of the time."

On his own, Cerveris began to collect other material, devouring everything he could on the subject of Peron. He pulls from the ledge several books — examples of what Peron's father, Mario Tomás Perón, had given his young son to read. Cerveris says, "Peron had three books with him his whole life that he kept by his bedside." These were "Plutarch's Lives," to teach Peron about military life, "Chesterfield's Letters" (also called) Philip Stanhope's "Letters to His Son," which Michael said gave, "instruction in being a gentleman in the world." Finally, Michael pulls out a book bound in cowskin, with ancient, tea-colored pages, a bilingual edition of Martin Fierro's "El Gaucho," one of Argentina's most iconic books. "This his father gave him to always remind him of where he came from, and especially of the Pampas, where he had grown up."

Cerveris points to Juan Peron's signature on a government book he bought on eBay for about $150.
photo by Michael Luongo

Cerveris' own most prized piece in the collection is a government planning book signed by Juan Peron himself for Peronist labor leader Florencio Soto for which he paid only about $150. Some of what Michael reads and collects have also been suggested to him by Elena Roger, a native of Buenos Aires, including Tomas Eloy Martinez's "The Peron Novel." All of this has impacted what is seen on stage.

"What I have learned from my research and what Elena brought from her research and also just from her life, has served to color some of the details [of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical]," he says. "[We] perhaps offer in non-spoken bits alternatives to the party line of the piece itself that I hope ultimately makes it a richer and more complex more satisfying experience for the audience."