Review: Shatner’s World at the Majestic
Stravinsky and Shatner in the same season? Weâ€™re not exactly sure how Arts San Antonio cobbled together its 2012-2013 slateâ€”how many Trekkies will be rioting for Le Sacre du PrintempsÂ this spring?â€”but it turns out that Shatnerâ€™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 â€śdigressiveâ€ť as one of the eveningâ€™s principal virtues, a scheme that opens up whole new vistas in marketing. (Howzabout: â€śCome see the premiere of The Haunted House at the Overtime Theater — itâ€™s meandering!â€ť) In any event, Shatnerâ€™s piece–the grandiloquently titled â€śShatnerâ€™s World: We Just Live in Itâ€ťâ€”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 breakâ€”and in some ways, his cross to bearâ€”as Star Trekâ€™s Captain Kirk.
Iâ€™m happy to report that Shatnerâ€™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 eveningâ€™s most disarming moment, Shatner explores the central scene of his documentary â€śThe Captains,â€ť in which Shatner and his heir apparent Patrick Stewart discuss fame and immortality. Stewartâ€”one of the great Shakespearean actors of our timeâ€”candidly admits that heâ€™s just as happy to be known as Picard as Prospero. The relief on Shatnerâ€™s face is palpable: turns out, itâ€™s okay to be pop icon. We canâ€™t all be Plummers.
In any event, the showâ€™s video clipsâ€”such as from â€śThe Captainsâ€ťâ€”are relatively infrequent. Shatnerâ€™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. Itâ€™s actually a dandy monologue, one which says something important about the collision of show businessâ€”whether of horses or actorsâ€”and personal responsibility.) Some of the anecdotes are more opaque: the evening opens with a confusing video that introduces an apparently upset George Takei (â€śFuck you and the horse you rode in on!â€ť) during a celebrity roast. (The incident elicited knowledgeable laughter from the Trekkies in the audience, but the rest of us were baffled. Apparently, thereâ€™s bad blood between Shatner and Takeiâ€”but why is Shatner telling us this? Either give us more, or less.). The Takei video is all the stranger because of Shatnerâ€™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 Shatnerâ€™s Jewish upbringingâ€”there are jokes straight out of the Catskillsâ€”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: itâ€™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 Broadwayâ€”Mike Tysonâ€™s attempt premiered last year, God help us allâ€”and itâ€™s not a genre weâ€™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 worldâ€”and perilsâ€”of pop stardom, performed with energy and panache. Shatnerâ€™s show is still an oddball choice for Arts San Antonioâ€™s season, but Iâ€™m glad the season programmers decided to goâ€”indeed, toÂ boldly goâ€”where Arts San Antonio had not gone before. Two thumbs (beamed) up.