The Quiet Model
nytheatre.com review by Josephine Cashman
July 23, 2006
The Quiet Model is a play very loosely based on historical events that surround John Everett Millais's painting Ophelia. Millais (Cary Hite) finds himself haunted by the ghost of the mysterious model (Marguerite French), who sat for him. She follows him while Millais coyly and furtively refuses to reveal her identity. His obsession with the painting causes a furor among London society and drives a wedge between his friend Dante and his laudanum-addicted wife, Elizabeth (Megan Ferguson), who may or may not have been the inspiration for the painting. Certainly all of London believes that she is.
With Millais on the edge of madness, and his own marriage foundering, the truth comes out between Millais and Elizabeth. Actors Hite and Ferguson do a lovely job with this sad, private, and emotionally intimate scene. Millais saw Elizabeth's sister Christine commit suicide, and did nothing to stop it. Instead, he captured the moment on canvas, and has been haunted ever since: "I found her and I never even tried." Millais defends himself to both Elizabeth and the ghost. It is unclear if Ophelia/Christine was autistic or mentally unstable. While her ghost is as vengeful as a character in Shakespeare's Hamlet, she is ultimately impotent and powerless to protect her image and her last moments of life. Michelle Brown as Beatrice and Chelsea Miller as Effie Millais also do strong, commendable work in their supporting roles.
The lighting by Ryan Metzler is soft and hints of Pre-Raphaelite and Impressionism paintings, giving both the simple set and the cast an ethereal look. Director Chelsea Miller has artfully staged the play, and at times the cast look like works of art themselves. Mike Lunapiena's musical accompaniment is simply gorgeous.
Playwright L.A. Mitchell creates many intriguing characters, but at just 55 minutes in length, the play never seems to flesh them out, so they feel incomplete. We're given tantalizing glimpses, but never a real sense of who they are, so the play begins to lapse into melodrama. When the Quiet Model finally speaks, we're given no more insight into who she was, and the mystery surrounding both the painting and the model seems as quietly enigmatic as when the play began.