Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - February 16, 2012
William Shatner In Shatner's World We Just Live in It
Directed by Scott Faris.
Scenic design by Edward Pierce. Lighting design by Ken Billington. Sound design by Peter Fitzgerald.
This news may not sit well with hardcore Trekkers who attend in hopes of learning some juicy new gossip about life aboard the Enterprise that maybe they've missed over the last 45 years. Oh, there's chit-chat about Gene Roddenberry's baby, but no dwelling. A joke at the beginning about refusing to beam in via a flashing spotlight from the flies, an anecdote about recording the greeting for the final day of the final space shuttle flight, and some other peppery observations regarding the likes of Georges Takei and Lucas and via clips from the Shatner-produced 2011 documentary, The Captains... those are about it.
Yet no fan of Shatner's work, whether Star Trek, The Practice and Boston Legal, T.J. Hooker (there must be someone), or even live theatre will feel short-changed by this breezy evening's surprise-laden recounting of it all. From his earliest infatuations with comedians like Dick Shawn on the professional level and stripper Lily St. Cyr on the, um, personal level, Shatner recounts how he became interested in the business as a young boy and never strayed from his belief, even as his garment-manufacturing father begged him to join, and someday assume control of, the family business. Shatner always knew where his heart lay.
He spends most of the 100-minute running time detailing the many routes and detours that have led him to where he is. A wild cross-country road trip to get a rabbi to a Chicago temple before Friday at sundown. Spelling Christopher Plummer as Henry V at the Stratford Festival on little notice and with less rehearsal, and forgetting his lines at the climactic moment. And there are some choice anecdotes from his previous Broadway appearances: his front-line view (and perhaps participation in) a devastating practical joke at the final performance of Tamburlaine the Great in 1956, and how he used massive audience walkouts and a feud between director Joshua Logan and lead actress France Nuyen to turn Paul Osborn's flop 1958 drama The World of Suzy Wong into a long-running comic hit.
Shatner eventually becomes serious, too, segueing into ruminations on animal cruelty (he fell in love with horses while filming Alexander the Great, but owning one had unforeseen consequences) and death (among other things, how the loss of his wife led him to new love that's lasted 12 years). These play more potently than you might expect, and are even crowned by a surprisingly satisfying (if overlong) foray into spoken-word singing in which Shatner clearly and warmly articulates the basic but oft-forgotten fact that entertainment legends are ultimately the same as the people who admire them.
Displaying stunning reserves of energy for a man who's nearly 81, Shatner performs with plenty of buoyant humor and good-natured self-deprecation. If it's hard to detect much "great actor" in him (Patrick Stewart's carriage he does not have), he presents the various chapters of his life story with cleverness and fun, nearly singlehandedlyEdward Pierce's vague study set provides a couple of desks, an adjustable wheeled chair (the only prop of note), and a towering circular projection screen for showing clips of Shatner's more memorable TV and movie moments, but that's it. Scott Faris's direction is as unfussy as can be, usually (and wisely) concerned with removing as many barriers as possible between Shatner and his audience.
Because the show is all Shatner all the time, its flaws are no more or less than his. His timing and delivery, though hardly as extreme or wooden as they've long been parodied, don't vary much regardless of topic, and that can lead to a droning feel. And at the performance I attended, he lost his place a few times, got a bit flustered during several sentences, and would sometimes let his speech get lost in applause or laughter; his stage chops are obviously not yet returned to full strength. More time doing the show (it runs through March 4) will undoubtedly help.
But those taking in Shatner's World will undoubtedly have an excellent idea of what to expect upon entering the theater, and it's hard to see how they could walk out again disappointed. Shatner is almost the definition of a been-everywhere, done-everything performer, and you'll never quite be able to look at him, or the last several decades of show business in which he participated, quite the same way again. Of Shatner's many accomplishments here, the most fascinating is seeing a man best known for playing someone who toured the galaxy demonstrate exactly why he's a brighter star than any Captain James T. Kirk ever flew by.