Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Shatner's World": Count Me In

Shatner's World

This past Wednesday night, Marz took me to see "Shatner's World," for my birthday.

I'd been trying to take our picture in front of the marquee with my camera's self-timer when a well- dressed and coiffed woman popped out of the fancy restaurant on the corner and insisted she take it for us. [RIGHT]

She and her husband were going to see the show too.
Oh, fans... 

Interestingly, the crowd was dressed for the theater, not a con, with barely a Star Trek insignia in sight.

I probably wouldn't have paid to go see Shatner, as I've never been sure I liked the man himself; I just liked that he portrayed Kirk.
In fact, I was mostly just hoping that I wouldn't like him LESS in person...
I went because Marz loves him so much, and also it seemed crazy to miss the opportunity to see some shadow of Kirk. 
(Bill wasn't at the Las Vegas con in 2008, which I attended. Sulking about not being in the movie reboot?)

I'd worried that he'd be frenetic, shielded in self-defense, and over-the-top hammy.
And sure enough––after being greeted with cheers and a standing ovation––he started the show by attacking George Takei (a stupid mistake, in my opinion--it made him seem petty) and cracking some bad puns; but soon he was showing a more thoughtful and well-rounded side of his personality.

As it turned out, I liked him. A lot.
Shatner didn't even talk about Star Trek much:
the show was mostly a surprisingly real and rather moving review of a life in acting, from his first success on stage at six years old, in a summer camp play.

"I can make that work."

Shatner's life-force is strong, at almost-81.
He's physically slowed, of course, but his repeated refrain throughout the evening was, "I can make that work," and the show itself was a masterpiece of working around limitations.
It was ordered so that Shatner could perform for the whole 100 minutes without an intermission:
He is backed by a huge screen showing a scene of outer space (the galaxy?), and intermittently brief clips from his life and work are projected on the screen.

[We fans have seen most of them on youTube, of course: a horse-riding scene from "Alexander the Great"; Kirk's "risk is our business" speech; Shatner's appearance at a tribute to George Lucas, etc.]

I noticed that he takes those moments in the dark to sit down... and catch his breath? take a drink of water from the pitchers on either side of the stage?

A rolling desk chair ('my co-chair" ---groan) is his only stage prop, which serves as well as a physical support: he leans on it to dance a little soft-shoe shuffle; and reclines in it as he demonstrates how in 1969 he, a divorced man living in a camper, lay watching the first Moon landing on a 4-inch TV perched on his chest. ("The irony was not lost on me.")

My Father Is Going to Be Dead for Eternity

The chair played a role in the best part of the show, I thought:
Shatner's retelling of his father's death.
[He doesn't mention––but fans know––that his father died during the filming of Star Trek's "Devil in the Dark" episode, which is why we see a stand-in's back in some of the pizza-creature scenes.]

Shatner is talking about choosing his father's coffin at the mortuary. They ranged from a plain pine box to a sliver-embossed, lead-lined one, guaranteed to keep out water for a year and a half.

"My father's going to be dead for eternity," he recalls saying to the funeral director. "What's a year and a half?"

Then Shatner takes off his suit coat, (revealing a Kirk-gold–backed waistcoat), and starts to fold it.

"My father taught me how to fold a man's jacket," he says.
"You fold the shoulders together..." and he deftly demonstrates what his clothing-manufacturer father taught him a lifetime ago.
"Think of all the hands that went into making this, from making the fabric to stitching it, handling it... I heard my father say, 'Spend the money on the living.'"

He chose the pine coffin, "and we laid my father in it," he said, gently laying the folded jacket across the seat of the chair.

Rolling the chair across the stage, he says, "We rolled him into the funeral, and I went and sat by my sister Joy. 'Our father would be proud," I told her. 'I got a good deal on the coffin.'

"'Why?' she replied, 'Was it used?'"

An Old Vaudevillian

Guy's an old vaudevillian.
I'd never put that together before.

He told about sneaking in to see the famous burlesque stripper Lily St. Cyr, as a teenager in 1940s Montreal.

LEFT: Lili St. Cyr held the title as the most famous woman in Montreal throughout the late 1940s into the 1950s.

No wonder Shatner felt at home with "girls with green paint and tiny bikinis -- everything I'm interested in."

He fell not just for her but for the comic acts. Comedians who knew the importance of timing, 
 ..."like Dick Shawn."

Dick Shawn's death became a vehicle for Shatner to talk about his own death:
the comic died on stage (in 1987, aged 63).

He collapsed during a comic routine about surviving nuclear war and the audience thought it was part of his act and didn't leave, even when a doctor in the audience told them to!
He'd had a heart attack and died right there on stage.

Shatner'd like to go that way, he said. 
"But not tonight!"

 RIGHT: Shawn as the spaced-out hippie Lorenzo St. DuBois (L.S.D.) auditioning for "Springtime for Hitler" in The Producers (1968, dir. Mel Brooks) 


All Men Kill the Thing They Love

Many of the stories Shatner told, I'd heard--or ones like them.
One I'd never heard was the story of a horse he called "my Bucephalus," after Alexander the Great's horse.

Shatner had agreed to let this beloved stallion be put to stud, not knowing what it meant: that it would no longer be a pet but would be treated, instead, as a dangerous, wild animal.
Over the ensuing years, each time Bill went back to see the horse, it was restrained in some new way, until finally it was hobbled, muzzled, and lived in "solitary confinement" in an enclosed stall.

We keep waiting to hear how he rescued it.

He never did.

There's a moment of some possible redemption, when the stallion experiences a moment of wild freedom before he is put down. "Perhaps he forgave me," Shatner says, but it's a irredeemably a story of his own moral failure to act.
"All men kill the thing they love," Oscar Wilde says, and this man lets us know he is no exception.

It's a disturbing story, and an odd one, too, because Shatner's sins tend to be sins of commission, not sins of omission.
After all, saying YES is one of his life's tenets. 

I could see Kirk, lying with his head on his desk  [LEFT] in "Requiem for Methusaleh,"
having confessing to Spock that his pride had cost someone he loved her life. 

I've always despised that Spock responds by erasing the memory from Kirk's mind.
Shatner doesn't take that out.

This is a good man, I thought--something I'd never glimpsed before, under all that puffery.

Do Everything!

Toward the end of the show, Shatner talks about the importance of continuing to say Yes as you age, because, he said, "It's so easy to say no, I'd rather stay home..."

And you know what?
That was the one note in the show that struck false: 
I simply did not believe him. I don't think he'd rather stay home.

But, hey--I'm probably wrong---he must get tired and cranky.
After all, as he reminds us by singing "Real" for his final act,
"I eat and sleep and breathe and bleed and feel."

He stayed for a bit of the standing wave of love, and exited, stage left.

Afterward, Marz and I were both too energized to go right home, so we went out for a bite at Brit's Pub.
I asked Marz how Shatner had affected her, and she said,
"Tomorrow I am going to begin to do everything!"

Sign me up.


poodletail said...

I'm in.

Clowncar said...

nice pic of you two. I wouldn't have expected him to be so...human? I'd assume he'd bring the ham. but actors lead interesting lives, and it's truly a calling. glad you had fun.

momo said...

Glad to know he did not disappoint.

Fresca said...

POODLE: You always were.

CLOWN: Hey! nice to see you back in the 'sphere!

MOMO: Indeed he did not.

Emma J said...

Enjoyed this! I've been vacating the blogosphere but had a window this morning with a cancellation and had to come see where l'astronave has been exploring lately. Good to hear your voice.

Jennifer said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed! The Bucephelas story is terribly sad and I'm impressed Shatner doesn't gloss it at all. I'm relieved you had the impression he was a good man, although it is a bit too bad that neither he nor Takei seems able to let go of their animosity. Rather "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" at times...

femminismo said...

Fascinating stuff to look at a show through your eyes. The idea of Kirk is so overwhelming, I would find it hard to take Shatner, I think. But you brought out good qualities. I'm so glad you went and came back with this story!!