There’s nothing new about stories appearing in the press whose details may or may not turn out to be true after all. Irish Coffee is, at least in part, about two journalists investigating the actual whereabouts of the body of Eva Perón (1919-1952). Tomas Eloy Martinez (1934-2010) (Giorgio Galassi) works for La Nación, or at least he did until he was fired as their film critic, having taken a thorough dislike to practically everything he saw, which led to advertising revenue from movie studios disappearing as they took their custom elsewhere. Rodolfo Walsh (1927-1977) (Fergus Foster) is a freelance journalist, which is essentially a roundabout way of saying he doesn’t do a lot in he world of journalism, instead making himself useful by supporting his wife in whatever she needs help with to operate a store of some description.
Colonel Moori Koenig (Gary Heron), meanwhile, has been shot at (note the difference between being ‘shot’ and ‘shot at’) in his home, which has consequently become something of a fortress, albeit one with shattered windows taped up. His longsuffering wife (Sally Ripley) tries to encourage him to do something – anything – rather than sit in the same position all day and every day, keeping his proverbial cards close to his chest, but to no avail. Presumably because of the Colonel’s position within the Argentinian military, the telephone is in frequent use, as the couple continually fend off press enquiries.
It is assumed that Martinez and Walsh were working at the time the play is set (I couldn’t quite pinpoint when it was from the narrative, though the press release places the action at ‘the beginning of the 60s in Argentina’), though any actual collaboration appears not to have occurred – that is, this production is a work of fiction. Of course, the play has never claimed to be a true story, but even so, the basic idea that underpins it is rather far-fetched, and it is a little surprising that journalists of this calibre would seriously think that they were really going to discover where the body of the woman once dubbed ‘Spiritual Leader of the Nation’ was at the time, with so many leads going nowhere and fabrications of the truth galore. The real Martinez did, however, write Santa Evita, a 1995 novel about where Eva Perón’s corpse ended up.
In this steadily paced production, attention is paid to minor details, as the Colonel’s wife frets over whether the maid has been in or not, and the miscellaneous glasses positioned adjacent to the Colonel’s beloved armchair are all allegedly dirty, but he still drinks out of them anyway. The various theories and possibilities about the location of the body grow tiresome after a while, and the conclusion of the play is somewhat unsatisfying, to be blunt: Walsh and the Colonel sit, in their respective rooms, bashing away on typewriters. Are they writing their memoirs? It appears to be left to the audience to determine.
There is, at least, an appreciation of how it is not only in Britain where (certain) newspapers are not to be trusted, however widely read they may be. Aside from that, though, the applicability of the events depicted here to modern times is rather limited, and this is, therefore, a play that is best enjoyed as a period piece of theatre.
Review by Chris Omaweng
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Eva Perón’s birth, so we are bringing a new play to the Calder Bookshop & Theatre that explores a little-known aspect of her legacy.
It’s the beginning of the 60s in Argentina, a time of political violence and popular revolt, and it is in this seething atmosphere that journalists Rodolfo Walsh and Tomás Eloy Martínez have an idea for an exclusive article to sell to Paris Match Magazine.
Together, they embark on an investigation to find out where the abducted corpse of Eva Perón has been hidden by the dictatorship that deposed her husband. As they follow their dark path, they meet with that of the reticent, obsessive Colonel Moori Koenig—and his wife, who keeps a few secrets of her own.
Irish Coffee tells the story of a doomed investigation, woven into fiction from very real events first by Walsh in a short story, then by Martínez in a novel, and now by Eva Halac in this very play. Newly translated into English, it poses stinging questions for our political present about the urge for action beyond the written word and whether impartiality is ever possible.
The show will run Thursdays to Sundays at 7:30 pm, from October 10th to November 3rd, for a total of sixteen performances.
Calder Bookshop & Theatre, 51 The Cut, London, SE1 8LF.