Review by Danny Gaisin
“I wanted the gold and I sought it; I scrambled and mucked like a slave…” The fascinating and peripatetic poet Robert Service wrote these words and many more about the Northwest and the famous Klondike Rush of 1897-99. Two of his most famous poems were requisite in my High School English Lit., curriculum, but it was a family connection that made me absorb anything & everything written about the Yukon. Photo by David Hou
My grandfather; with a travelling writer named Jack, joined 30,000 others and tried their luck. Both failed, but Mr. London did glean some notoriety writing about their year!
Service, still in his twenties travelled and worked in many different jobs across the North West. He was a bank clerk, a bawdy house bouncer; farmer and store clerk. His travels, love life and financial roller coaster ride was sufficient meat for any novelist, but Morris Panych has decided to create a sedentary dreamer who never went anywhere but to his Ontario Bank of Commerce. WANDERLUST tells us that Service was an average guy but with a serious case of ‘shpilkes’, which he assuaged through imagination and poetry. Incorporating original music by Marek Norman, some clever interpretive choreography by Diana Coatsworth, and an ingenious set (Ken MacDonald) that places the orchestra oppositional to the teller’s kiosks, one feels the limitations that would have inhibited Panych’s Service.
The title role is played by Tom Rooney and he gives his interpretation full measure. I kept thinking about the job this actor would have done with a true retelling of the poet’s life. His comedic dialogues with his paramour; and his subservient but combative situation with the assistant manager demonstrate a diverse range of roll-playing. The object of his affection is Robin Hutton and she resists his urge to run away and explore; preferring the stability- financial & residual, of Dan Chameroy. Both of these actors are sufficiently talented to flesh out their portrayals and to endow themselves with the positive & negative traits endemic in all of us. They also become the source material for ‘Dan McGrew’ and his ‘lady known as Lou’!
As entertainment, WANDERLUST succeeds; as history…sorry; it’s not even close. Imagination may have worked for Panych’s vision of Robert Service; but to this writer, inventiveness, no matter how resourceful, ever replaces a truly interesting, factual tale. WANDERLUST is at the Tom Patterson Theatre.