Perhaps you recall a television show called Meeting of Minds where Steve Allen would interview actors playing famous figures from history. Most often Allen’s “guests” lived in different periods and places and couldn’t possibly have known one another during their actual lifetimes.
GOLF at Circle Theatre reminds me of that old TV program. It’s a fascinating experiment that perhaps bites off more than it can chew. Two pairs of lovers relate in a haunting, historical, yet ultimately unfulfilling drama.
Written by award-winning poet Susan Hahn and directed by Ann Filmer, GOLF is chock full of imagery and symbolism. The game becomes a metaphor for the rules of love and the horrors of war. Such literary devices are the nuts and bolts of poetry and they can create sparks on the page, but not necessarily on stage. The golf imagery seems especially belabored.
There are too many ideas, too many themes. The non-linear storyline jumps back and forth between two world wars. The result is a certain blurriness and disorientation.
The play has two female protagonists”the famous fashion designer Coco Chanel (Mierka Girten) and Eva Braun (Cat Dean), Hitler’s mistress. Both are drawn to powerful warriors, yet choose different coping strategies.
Braun (1912-1945) was Mrs. Hitler for only one day. Portrayed by most historians as a passive bimbo, she offered her beloved Fuehrer total devotion and submission. The pair rarely appeared in public together”few Germans even knew of her existence”yet her loyalty never flagged. Against Hitler’s order, she chose to remain with him to the very end. To reward her, he married his longtime mistress in his underground bunker deep beneath Berlin. The newlyweds committed suicide the next day.
The play is filtered through the point of view of Chanel (1883-1971). Known for her timeless suits, signature “little black dress,” and Chanel No. 5 fragrance, she was shrewd, chic and cutting edge. The clothes she created not only changed the way women looked but how they looked at themselves.
I’m almost certain Braun and Chanel never met. Realistically, how could their paths cross? Braun was secluded in Germany far from Chanel’s Parisian fashion empire. But it’s always exciting to imagine what might have been.
Eva initially visits Coco’s shop as a customer but soon the lonely girl who spends most of her time awaiting her lover’s further instructions calls Chanel her friend. It’s an inspired pairing: a liberated woman of the world and a naïve, hopeless romantic who travels by train with the curtains drawn so as not to see “what is going on.”
Though the two women’s lovers are not identified in the program, Chanel’s grand passion was Arthur Capel, portrayed by Josh Odor. There’s little in the script or acting to suggest this British gentleman is a prominent socialite and a polo player with a vast number of mistresses. He’s like a next-door neighbor on some drab sitcom. Odor and Girten lack chemistry and their relationship is vaguely delineated.
Gene Cordon plays Braun’s lover, who we assume to be Hitler. Both men”Odor and Cordon”seem miscast. Each comes off too American; the Nazi even sounds Midwestern. He’s much scarier before he speaks. We get no sense of what attracts Braun to this monster. For a girl hooked on romance novelettes and Cary Grant and Clark Gable movies, there had to be something other than power and brutality to win her devotion.
Dean is great as Braun. She’s touching and aggravating, deluded and shallow. But Chanel’s personality is more difficult to grasp. She spends decades mooning over the lost love of her life, yet we scarcely witness her relationship with Capel. He and Coco, in fact, are seldom in the same flashback. He’s forever hitting golf balls through windows (it’s funny the first couple of times) and making pronouncements about the ethics of the game.
Chanel never married. The play implies she found women who were dependent on men quite boring. Yet the real Coco spoke more often of femininity than feminism. Much of her livelihood was actually financed by the men who were her lovers. During the German Occupation of Paris, Chanel’s affair with a younger Nazi officer resulted in a period of diminished popularity and self-assigned exile in Switzerland after the war.
I’m not certain why Capel and Hitler are not identified by name in the script or program. Surely there can’t be legal risks any longer. Frankly, it would be a better play if we never saw these two jerks. A duet between the two contrasting women would have been far more tantalizing.
There’s one especially distasteful bit where Hitler shows up at the salon and, assuming he’s alone, gets busy groping and fondling a headless manikin wearing one of Chanel’s designs. Let’s just say that little black dress winds up like Monica Lewinsky’s. I’m not sure we needed to witness this little episode to comprehend Hitler is a twisted sleazo.
Bob Knuth designed the smart looking set, which accommodates a variety of action, from the golf course to the fashion salon.
The play lasts an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.