According to Carson Kreitzer’s new script, Behind the Eye, premiering at the Cincinnati Playhouse, Lee Miller “reflects light so well it seems that she herself is the source.” Miller, you see, is a forgotten but real historical figure, a photographer’s model in Vogue in the 1920s, a photographer herself in the 1930s and a fearless photojournalist across Europe during World War II. By any standards she was promiscuous and willful, a free spirit for whom happiness was just beyond her grasp.
She is the fascinating focal point for Kreitzer’s compelling new play (read more about it in Curtain Call, here), perhaps the best piece of theater at the Playhouse this season.
Actress Sarah Agnew unhesitatingly portrays this memorable woman, often speaking directly to the Shelterhouse audience surrounding the action, anticipating disapproval and daring judgment. A sterling ensemble of four other actors play characters from Miller’s life — husbands, lovers, famous personages (artists Picasso and Man Ray, writer Collette) and others — but Behind the Eye glows with Agnew’s stunning characterization of this fierce, uncompromising woman. Kreitzer’s writing, muscular and sharp, requires close attention and the result is thoroughly rewarding.
This production is Kreitzer’s third (and most approachable) collaboration with director Mark Wing-Davey. She credits him for bringing forth great depth from her script. But the show’s impact is also due to a remarkable creative team — especially scenic co-designers Peter Ksander and Douglas Stein, lighting designer Blake Burba and video designer Peter Flaherty — who devised a physical production every bit as alive and surprising as the script. Props appear from wooden sideboards or through ribboned curtains, then disappear just as quickly. Videos overhead add to Miller’s sensuality and highlight details of images she photographed.
The show — and Miller’s life — ends in an unexpected moment that leaves the audience gasping. Anyone who yearns for the power of dynamic theater needs to look Behind the Eye.
BEHIND THE EYE, presented by the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, continues through May 1. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.