Coco, Eva, Adolf, Arthur play 'Golf'

Even if the script was a little strange, director Ann Filmer admits she was intrigued with "Golf," Chicago writer Susan Hahn's first play. The show begins previews on Friday at Circle Theatre in Forest Park.

In this "dark and sensual tale," Coco Chanel, the legendary French fashion designer, fits Eva Braun, Hitler's mistress, for a dress. Chanel and Braun never met, but in using historical figures, Hahn examines how two very different women handled the powerful men in their lives. For that matter, Chanel never married Arthur Capel, the love of her life, either.

Braun had a complex, and largely mysterious, relationship with history's most notorious dictator. The story is told from the perspective of Chanel, a woman who had great power over the world of fashion.

"We do see an attraction between Hitler and Coco -- the attraction of power," Filmer reveals. "Eva Braun is a more lovable character than you thought she would be. It's a play about power: we are all drawn to it; we all have it inside of us."

Obviously, it's a provocative script, but Filmer, a Chicago director, producer and choreographer, loves making the audience think and exposing them to the work of daring playwrights. She has directed plays at Stage Left, Red Orchid and Chicago Dramatists.

"If you could describe this play in two sentences or less, it would just be 90 minutes on stage," Filmer relates. "I'm more interested in plays where you're not dumping things on the audience. Instead, you're opening a window, and letting things creep in slowly."
The play has very little to do with the title, and that also intrigued Filmer.

"Originally, Susan Hahn set out to write something scathing about golf," Filmer explains. "Then she went out with a friend, who took her to a golf course, and she became totally fascinated with golf, and how the rules in golf have a lot to do with respect."

In the play, Hahn, who is also a poet, uses the game of golf as a metaphor for war. In a dress shop overlooking a golf course, Chanel's lover Capel, contrasts golf -- and its civility -- with the horrors of war. The play moves back and forth in time from the characters' lives to events in history.

There is no linear story line, and Filmer found that fascinating as well. "Because Susan Hahn is a poet, that brings an interesting tone to this play," Filmer says. "I feel Hahn has the ability to tackle large thematic statements in subtle ways. Her poems, like this play, tend to lean towards the darker side, with an odd sense of humor. This is a beautiful, tragic play."

Filmer admits it's not easy directing a drama that deals with historical figures and complex themes. Most of the play is written in subtext, and because it's a brand new script, there are no clear-cut stage directions to follow.

The cast features Mierka Girten as Coco Chanel, Cat Dean as Eva, Gene Cordon as Hitler and Josh Odor as Arthur Capel.
"It's very collaborative because we're creating a new world together," Filmer says. "You don't have reference points because there isn't a Broadway play or movie. You have to make sure everyone is on the same page."

Filmer is encouraging her actors to dive right in.

"Because it's all very subtextual, you don't necessarily get inside the heads of the characters," Filmer comments. "One of the challenges in this play is the delivery. Because it's not naturalistic, you don't want the dialogue to sound stilted."

She is giving her actors a lot of room to explore their fascinating characters. "I always tell actors to go far -- break out," Filmer reveals. "If they start from a place of truth, they never have to worry about going too far. We are lucky to have a pool of actors who get it. That's just the personality of the Chicago actor. It's nice to able to work with actors who enjoy the freedom of bringing their own unique energies to their roles."

In this play, the women are the catalysts for Hahn's provocative exploration of power and history. Coco enjoys her independence and resists committing to one man. Eva is a hopeless romantic, even if her taste in men is rather questionable.

Instead of explaining Eva's attraction to the sadistic Fuehrer, Filmer says this play merely raises questions about the choices Eva, or any woman in denial, might make. "Was Eva truly clueless," Filmer ponders, "or did she pretend not to know what was going on because it was too painful? Look at how the Nazi party took over. People were in denial."

Filmer feels this script transcends time because it raises such monumental issues.

"This play raises the question: how do people leave their mark; how will they be remembered in history?" Filmer remarks. "It's a good piece to do right now because war, occupation, power struggles and denial, are a part of our world right now.

"The audience will be drawn to each of these characters because of each one's charisma," Filmer emphasizes. "It's my job to open up the audience to the world of this play. You really don't know what's going to happen until you get the play on its feet in front of an audience. I really hope people leave the theater seeing a tale of survival. The message of this play is to keep living, no matter what horrors have happened, and to finish the game with grace."

"Golf" begins preview performances Friday and makes its world premiere next Wednesday (through March 13) at Circle Theatre, 7300 W. Madison St., Forest Park. Tickets are $22; $20 seniors and students; previews, $11. Call (708) 771-0700.