Review: Shatner's World at the Majestic

  Stravinsky and Shatner in the same season? We’re not exactly sure how Arts San Antonio cobbled together its 2012-2013 slate—how many Trekkies will be rioting for Le Sacre du Printemps this spring?—but it turns out that Shatner’s one man show is a surprisingly charming evening of (I suppose) theater. Well, perhaps theater is too grand a word: promotional materials actually list “digressive” as one of the evening’s principal virtues, a scheme that opens up whole new vistas in marketing. (Howzabout: “Come see the premiere of The Haunted House at the Overtime Theater -- it’s meandering!”) In any event, Shatner’s piece--the grandiloquently titled “Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It”—is more like a loose autobiography, as Shatner takes us on a trip from his roots as a journeyman actor in his native Canada to his early forays in New York City to his big break—and in some ways, his cross to bear—as Star Trek’s Captain Kirk. I’m happy to report that Shatner’s got real stage chops: after all, he famously stepped in for Christopher Plummer when that actor fell ill during a run of Henry V. Indeed, the shade of Shakespeare seems to pursue Shatner across the decades: in the evening’s most disarming moment, Shatner explores the central scene of his documentary “The Captains,” in which Shatner and his heir apparent Patrick Stewart discuss fame and immortality. Stewart—one of the great Shakespearean actors of our time—candidly admits that he’s just as happy to be known as Picard as Prospero. The relief on Shatner’s face is palpable: turns out, it’s okay to be pop icon. We can’t all be Plummers. In any event, the show’s video clips—such as from “The Captains”—are relatively infrequent. Shatner’s clearly a ham and clearly loves the stage, and the evening works best when our star launches into polished, even affecting, vignettes from his past. (My favorite was a pathos-filled description of the deterioration of Shatner's beloved show horse, a tale with a number of unexpected twists. It’s actually a dandy monologue, one which says something important about the collision of show business—whether of horses or actors—and personal responsibility.) Some of the anecdotes are more opaque: the evening opens with a confusing video that introduces an apparently upset George Takei (“Fuck you and the horse you rode in on!”) during a celebrity roast. (The incident elicited knowledgeable laughter from the Trekkies in the audience, but the rest of us were baffled. Apparently, there’s bad blood between Shatner and Takei—but why is Shatner telling us this? Either give us more, or less.). The Takei video is all the stranger because of Shatner’s circumspection about other aspects of his life: we learn next-to-nothing about his first two wives, for instance, and his three children are introduced almost in passing. But we learn quite a bit about Shatner’s Jewish upbringing—there are jokes straight out of the Catskills—and are also treated to a heartfelt tribute to his current wife, after a devastating loss in his third marriage. On Broadway, Shatner apparently offered the show with an intermission; but at the Majestic, he barrels on for nearly two hours straight, including an extended sequence that features his (Emmy-winning) work on Boston Legal. Somehow, the lack of intermission fits the piece: it’s not exactly art, so why intermit? Shatner wraps up the evening with some of his spoken-word pieces from various albums (the first of which, The Transformed Man, has been a cult classic for decades, and is at best an acquired taste). So: there are a lot of terrible celebrity shows that appear on Broadway—Mike Tyson’s attempt premiered last year, God help us all—and it’s not a genre we’d best encourage. But every once in a while, a celebrity makes good on the promise of the format: witty, informative anecdotes that give us a glimpse into the world—and perils—of pop stardom, performed with energy and panache. Shatner’s show is still an oddball choice for Arts San Antonio’s season, but I’m glad the season programmers decided to go—indeed, to boldly go—where Arts San Antonio had not gone before. Two thumbs (beamed) up.

-Thomas Jenkins

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