Monday, December 6, 2010


Studies in Motion, Cast. Photo Credit: Bruce Zinger

*** (out of five)

Reviewed by James Karas

Matthew Jocelyn, the Artistic and General Director of Canadian Stage, has turfed conventional theatre out the window in his programming for the Bluma Appel Theatre. He wants to lead Torontonians to a new theatrical landscape away from the familiar classic and modern plays that have been offered for the past few decades.

For his third production at the Bluma Appel he has chosen Kevin Kerr’s Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge, a production of the Electric Company Theatre of Vancouver. It is a bold and original work that goes beyond the limitations of the conventional play.

Muybridge (1830-1904) was an English photographer who spent most of his career in the United States. He discovered that by using multiple cameras he could take sequential pictures of an animal or a person in motion and show them in a gismo he called a zoopraxiscope. In effect this was an early form of a moving picture. His fascination with photographing and capturing locomotion knew no bounds. He took hundreds of thousands of photographs of animals and people in motion and published a number of books. He was able to show that the hooves of a horse are indeed all off the ground when it is galloping.

He also had a colourful personal life including marrying Flora Stone who bore him a son named Floredo Helios. Flora had a lover named Larkyns whom Muybridge killed. He was acquitted of the charge of murder on the grounds of justifiable homicide. The jury felt that he was justified in killing his wife’s lover. Muybridge had doubts about Floredo’s fatherhood and was haunted by his killing of Larkyns.

The title Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge is apt and accurate. Kevin Kerr’s play examines Muybridge’s fascination with motion and his work in that field as well as his haunted life. The music for the play was composed by Patrick Pennefather and choreography was provided by Crystal Pite. Both play a significant part in the production. From primitive looking nude dances to the moving people photographed by Muybridge and his numerous assistants, the capturing of motion plays a key part in the play.

His life is told in short scenes, some almost vignettes, as he moves from place to place around the United States. We see quarrels with colleagues, visits to the orphanage where his son lives, scenes in the dark room and the confrontation with his wife’s lover.

There are a dozen actors in the cast and some of them play several roles. Most of them are part of the “chorus” which plays a significant part by providing the dance movements. Aside from the secondary plot of Muybridge’s life, his career as a groundbreaking photographer is the most important part of the play.

The dominant character of the play is Muybridge played masterfully by Andrew Wheeler. The white-maned and bearded Muybridge is a striking figure and he dominates almost every scene. The rest of the characters, including his wife Flora (Celine Stube), his son Floredo (Julien Galipeau), the three roles played by Allan Morgan and Jonathan Young’s Eakins and Larkyns appear more as props to Muybridge’s vision of photography or his haunted personal life.

The most prominent and interesting aspects of the play are the visual and the aural. The heavy beats of Pennefather’s music brought to mind the primitive rhythms of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and the dances and dance movements were equally fascinating.

The dialogue connecting the strands of Muybridge’s life was serviceable but the development of plot and character were on the shallow and quick side. For those raised in a verbal universe and the more classical approach to theatre that look for plot and character development, this will appear like a major shortcoming.

For those who are more in tune with the modern emphasis on the visual and the quick, the play will have more to offer.

Studies in Motion is live theatre paying homage to a man whose work had an incalculable effect on its fortunes. Muybridge’s work led to the invention of the motion picture and if you want to see the effect on theatre look around you: how many live theatres do you see compared to movie houses?


Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge by Kevin Kerr opened on November 25 and will run until December 18, 2010 at the Bluma Appel Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East, Toronto, Ontario.

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