STUDIES IN MOTION: THE HAUNTINGS OF EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE by Kevin Kerr (Canadian Stage). At the Bluma Appel (27 Front East). Runs to December 18. See Continuing. Rating: NNNNN
A vivid demonstration of what theatre can be but so seldom is, Studies In Motion entertains, engages and concerns us with ideas that get to the root of human existence.
Kevin Kerr’s play explores the life and work of Eadweard Muybridge (Andrew Wheeler), a 19th-century photographer whose pioneering studies of animal and human locomotion anticipated the moving picture.
Kerr looks at two strands of Muybridge’s life: his scientific work at the University of Pennsylvania and his earlier time in San Francisco, where his much younger wife, Flora (Celine Stubel), cuckolds him with a local theatre critic (Jonathon Young).
The past bleeds into the present as Muybridge gets involved in the lives of his assistants and various models – male and female. Since the photos are taken nude (yup, there’s lots of skin, tastefully revealed), the indecency card comes up, but the play also explores the connection between science and art, and even what forms the basis of life.
These are lofty themes, but director Kim Collier stages the material with the kind of artistry that earned her the recent Siminovitch Prize. Robert Gardiner’s sets, lighting and video projections achieve maximum effect from minimum means, while Mara Gottler’s costumes efficiently suggest the period’s constrictions and mores.
Especially striking is Crystal Pite’s choreography, so necessary in a piece about finding the essence of movement and motion.
If there’s a coldness to the production, it’s fitting, because of Muybridge’s rigour and exactitude. Wheeler, onstage nearly all the time, exudes authority, his actions occasionally humanized by his broken heart.
Dawn Petten, Juno Ruddell and Kyle Rideout are also memorable as contrasting assistants. But this isn’t a star vehicle – it’s a collaborative effort, one that shouldn’t be missed.