Visiting on tour all the way from Austin, Texas was Theatre Heroes with a production of the beloved classic, “Call of the Wild” by Jack London. The story follows the staunch, 140-pound Bernard-Scotch Collie mix, Buck, when he is kidnapped from his luxurious home in California and sold to become a sled dog in the freezing Alaskan wilds during the Klondike Gold Rush. Buck will face many trials during his adventures. There will be moments of defeat and pain, but also moments of triumph and joy. During it all, he comes to learn who he is and what he is capable of in the struggle for survival. This may be a tale about a dog, but it speaks a very human message.
This production was a one-man-act performed by the extremely talented Noel Gaulin. There was an extensive array of material he had to display, from a long list of characters to the sounds of dogs and wolves. Gaulin had different voices and mannerisms for them all. With an expert level of finesse, he could go from a moment that had everyone laughing to a moment that had everyone near tears. There was always something going on to keep the story fun and engaging, but also nuanced and heartfelt. It was a great experience for children and adults alike. It speaks to everyone on a profound and emotional level.
Accompanying Gaulin were illustrations by Michael Rae and original music by Graham Weber. The illustrations allowed for an easier sense of connection with the material as the audience was able to see pictures of the scene. That combined with the music powerfully evoked the moments of fear, anger, joy and everything in between. There were also sound effects that Gaulin interacted with that brought it to further life, whether it was the crack of a whip or a pack of wolves joining in with Gaulin’s own howl. It was impressive to see the extent of preparation and thought that went into making this narrative both easy to follow and immersive.
The play was adapted and directed by Jason Tremblay. Since it was about an hour long, Tremblay had to pick carefully which scenes he wanted to translate to the stage as he wouldn’t be able to include it all. Nevertheless it didn’t feel like it was at all lacking. If anything, it helped to synthesize the themes into an easily digestible way and since it was geared toward kids, that made it all the better.
Theatre Heroes’ self-described mission is to “create high quality touring performances for young audiences and those young at heart,” of which it is certain to say that they have succeeded. They presented this timeless work of art in a new and interesting way that is sure to lead many to puzzle out its insightful message. The empathetic story of Buck will continue to live on and inspire all that hear it to fight against the odds. It is a reminder that after one is stripped of everything there is one thing that remains that only death can take and that is the call of the wild.