Next month will mark the century anniversary since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, triggering World War I—the event that kick-started the global wars whose history-rending violence defined the previous century. For those of us who work in a business that often marks milestones (50 years since the Beatles played Met Stadium, anyone?), and have lived long enough to remember the shadows cast by the world wars on our elders, this is a stark fact: As we move into the second decade of this new century, the previous one is slipping into history. The world inevitably takes new forms, leaving some of us feeling distinctly astride two eras.
Carson Kreitzer’s Behind the Eye, playing the next two weekends at Park Square Theatre, is a work that plunges deep into the prevailing threads of the 20th century: shattering the shackles of the previous order through art, the technology of photography, and a new breed of mass-marketed celebrity; the attendant power of image; the epochal redefinition of womanhood in the western world; and the prevailing reality of war-saturated decades that shocked human conscience and either inspired, or accompanied, a profound crisis of meaning as the trap door fell out from under the old rules.
At the center is historical firecracker Lee Miller, portrayed with piercing intensity by Annie Enneking. The outlines of Miller’s story are remarkable, and remarked upon by a good deal of direct audience address: she was a famous high-fashion model, later a photographer in her own right, a hobnobber with the likes of Man Ray and Picasso, and a war correspondent who witnessed the immediate aftermath of the German concentration camps—famously posing nude in Hitler’s own bathtub (she was also later an ace autodidact chef).
On a certain level it’s a daring work, a commendable act of respect for the audience on the part of Park Square, and its narrative certainly contains all sort of spiky details, difficult revelations, and frequent flouting of conventional morality. But it’s not as though Kreitzer is making this stuff up: Miller was a singular iconoclast and a force of nature quite worthy of exploration, and she was also a product of her times, the product of an era that is truly now bygone.
It’s too easy to argue against one’s own historical era—surely the same impulse to revile the internet also found expression in condemnation of the printing press at some point—but it’s piquant to consider the intellectual and artistic celebrity of Miller’s time, the sense that the life of ideas was truly intermixed with style, with creation, with the dangers that lie in our hearts and in the world we create. Between Kreitzer, Enneking, and director Leah Cooper, we have artists implicitly drawn to such notions, with the means to communicate them with soul and complexity—creating a work that feels explosive, the way such a history should.