nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 18, 2008
Martin Dockery's one-man play, Wanderlust, is spectacularly good. Dockery is an insightful and articulate writer and an equally smart and captivating actor; all of the exotic places he takes us to in this tale of a five-month excursion to western Africa spring up in vivid living color in the mind's eye as he describes them, and all the ups and downs of his remarkable adventures make the heartbeat alternately race and relax. Best of all, there's a subtle but compelling point behind Wanderlust that seeps into the consciousness as Dockery progresses through the show: in its own way, this is as much a call to action as his fellow solo performer Mike Daisey's more political How Theater Failed America—a wakeup call for anyone who's forgotten that one's days are meant to be actively lived and embraced rather than passively sat through and squandered.
Dockery begins his odyssey, which happened at the pivotal age of 35, in Wall Street, where—for too long, he suddenly realized—he had been laboring as a temp. (Dockery's explanation of how his departure from the world of high finance may have something to do with the current economic slowdown is very funny and may just have a grain of truth in it.) Dockery had recently ended a long-term relationship with one woman, and now found himself in non-committal relationships with three other women at once. The seeds of discontent were evident to him.
And so he decided to make good on a lifelong dream, to visit West Africa. The bulk of Wanderlust focuses on Dockery's extraordinary experiences there, from his ride across the Sahara desert (in the company of a Belgian couple with an awesomely high-tech SUV) to the final days of his trip, in Ghana, where he met up (as pre-arranged) with one of his three girlfriends.
Dockery's stories are all worth hearing. There's the one about the con man in The Gambia who tried to steal Dockery's cool pen from his Wall Street job. There's the one about how he got sick on a train in Benin and was befriended by a teenage wannabe hip-hop star who raps in French. There's the one about the possible dangers of swimming in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Guinea-Bissau. And, perhaps most memorably, there's the one about his trip to a small remote zoo in Ghana, where the guide/zookeeper showed them things about a python and a baboon that no tourist ever expects to see...and where a quiet moment with a chimpanzee led to a kind of epiphany.
These tales are, I'm telling you, absolutely unforgettable. Dockery's language is precise and specific and utterly evocative; he acts out his adventures (as opposed to simply recounting them) with enormous energy, immediacy, and physicality. He brings his African experiences entirely to life, supplying a thrill that feels more actual than vicarious.
Director Jean-Michele Gregory's work is invisible, which is the highest praise I can give it. Every moment in Wanderlust feels spontaneous and in the right-now, which can only be the result of immense preparation.
Lots of folks do cool stuff and think they can tell people about it (in a one-person show like this, or even just in a living room or bar); and lots of folks do one-person shows and think they're communicating something singular and compelling. The combination of both elements—great technique and a riveting and valuable tale to tell—is rare. Doing both as well as Dockery does them is rarer still. Wanderlust is a find, and deserves a long life. Catch it while you can—and keep your eyes peeled for the next Martin Dockery show, too.