William Shatner does not need to keep boldly going at age 80, almost 81. And yet, like any good actor, he keeps saying yes, or may be afraid of stopping, or he may just want to work as long as he can. Or some combination of those three factors. In any case, his latest career turn has taken him back to the theatre, where he got his start but has not spent time for quite awhile. So he turned to a knowledgeable and easy to remember subject: himself. He brought his latest enterprise to Philadelphia for one night only on Tuesday, March 13th.
With celebrity autobiography shows like this, it can be hard to pick out the drama. Well, their life’s drama is often splattered around the stage, but the dramatic throughline of their presentation can be harder to discern. I thought back to my seeing Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” four years ago in Berkeley, and how I’d let myself get wrapped up in her forcefully glamorous aura before being reminded by my also in the audience friend to think critically about Fisher’s presentation.
The same challenges exist in Mr. Shatner’s performance, and yet he has become so iconic (treasured?!) that I’m sure a good chunk of his Philadelphia audience took pleasure in simply seeing him LIVE. He did enter and leave the stage to a standing ovation, the latter round of which I joined in on.
This show, “Shatner’s World”, seems to have arisen out of a “now what?” or “why not?” phase of Shatner’s career. Actually, the expression is more likely to be “I’ve got nothing to lose!”
He takes the audience on a merry-go-round of a live autobiography, from the streets of Montreal to the hustle of Los Angeles to the infinity of outer space, and beyond. His most famous credit gets its due, but is not as closely scrutinized as I’d expected it to be. Shatner offers hints of what seems to be a larger theme of achieving personal (serious) acceptance of the role, something I would have liked to hear more about but may be difficult to describe in a public setting.
He doesn’t shy away from describing other parts of his career, but does keep the focus about 90% on his public life. His three daughters are only mentioned briefly, perhaps by their request, and there is no examination of the challenges of maintaining an acting career over so many years.
Shatner gave several unscripted asides to the audience about a range of topics from lighting cues to the eternal question of mortality. I found those thoughts to be more intriguing than the scripted material, and can understand why he’s gained popularity for his open mic and written word skills.
I’m certainly glad to have attended this performance, and realize that it adds to a relatively wide spectrum of Star Trek actors I’ve either seen or met in person – Shatner, Nimoy, Stewart, Spiner, plus two instances of one degree of separation links to Colm Meaney and Marina Sirtis.
And yet, in keeping with my theatrical sensibilities and desire for human insight, I know I might have even more enjoyed being a fly on the wall (or assistant director!) in the rehearsal room for this project. What must it be like to be so closely associated with a persona and therefore make your public life in conjunction with that role? Us it possible to show another side of yourself? How do those close to you feel about that side of your life? Or do they feel fortunate that they know you in real life? Do fantasy and reality blur to an inescapable nebula?
From what I gather, it seems that Shatner DOES ask some of those questions in his recent documentary “The Captains”, interviewing all five additional captain-actors of STAR TREK about their personal and professional lives. I considered buying a copy of this film at the souvenir table, but changed my mind after seeing it can be purchased for $12 less online.
It is clear you are a role model and still very present figure, Mr. Shatner. Thanks for your commitment and perseverance!