'Shadow of history': As Peronism returns, Argentine play explores its darker roots

File photo of former Argentina's President Martinez de Peron in Buenos Aires

By Lucila Sigal

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Gonzalo Demaría is fascinated by the "ghosts" of Argentina's past, in particular the roots of Peronism, the most influential political movement dating back to Juan Peron and his wife Eva Peron that is now set for a return to power.

The Argentine playwright, whose satirical play "Happyland" is showing in Buenos Aires, takes a new angle - looking at Isabel Perón, less feted than "Evita," but who became the first female president of Argentina when Juan Peron died in 1974.

The country is now set for the return of the Peronists, who won elections last month and will come back into the Casa Rosada presidential palace in December. On the ticket as vice president is Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, a modern day embodiment of Peronism often compared to Evita.

The play mixes historical fact with mythology and poetic license, following Isabel, the third wife of Perón, from meeting the Argentine leader in Panama to her imprisonment in 1976 in Patagonia after being overthrown by the military dictatorship.

During her time in power, the country saw one of the bloodiest periods in its history and she faced allegations of enabling political killings of leftist dissidents.

"I am happy that the work stirs things up and consequently makes us think. That is a shadow of our history that we should not reject or feel ashamed of," Demaría told Reuters, describing the work as a "ghost story and political satire."

"We need to assimilate it to move forward because otherwise it will come back in the form of a ghost. That's the problem. The dead always come back when there is something unresolved."

Some scenes refer to those killed by the government-linked death squad known as the "Triple A," while in another Evita directly confronts Isabel, who in March 1976 was ousted in a military coup that ushered in the seven-year "Dirty War."

Today, at 88, Isabel Perón lives in Madrid, while Argentina faces continuous cycles of crisis with high inflation, heavy levels of debt, poverty and unemployment some blame on Peronism. Evita, meanwhile, remains a powerful figure in the country.

"Isabelita achieved what the other (Evita) did not," said Demaría, referring to her taking the reins of government. "However, one is forgotten and the other is remembered."

(Reporting by Lucila Sigal; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Steve Orlofsky)