In a brisk 100 minutes, William Shatner’s one-man show Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It touches, with wit, insight and humor, upon many of the key points of this actor, author, director and Priceline pitchman’s life and career, but at 83 it’s clear Shatner’s just scratching the surface. This legend has stores to tell.
The running time, roughly the length of an animated feature or, perhaps, a two-act play, is maybe a bit short. However, when it’s an uninterrupted one-man show, it’s a marathon for the performer and, for Shatner’s audience, the result is satisfying, but with a hint of wanting more.
The erstwhile Star Trek Enterprise captain has been touring the U.S. with his one-man show for almost three years (his web site lists just a handful more dates). This after a brief Broadway run in 2012.
A prolific performer who will be 84 in March, Shatner traces his nearly 60-year career with jokes, anecdotes, videos, photos, dance (brief) and song. Though he may be best known for his nearly 30-year portrayal of Star Trek’s James T. Kirk, the Shakespearean-trained actor is really an old-school entertainer who fell in love with vaudeville-style entertainment while watching classic Burlesque performers.
Throughout a recent performance at the Tilles Center in Brookville, Long Island, Shatner moved aggressively about the large, sparsely decorated stage (there were bookshelves, a pair of lamps, a tiny desk and a rolling office chair). He would stride merrily from one end to the other, occasionally stopping on the office chair to sit, lean, kneel or ride around on it, an eager raconteur dispensing homilies, jokes and memories of his life as a young, middle-aged and now octogenarian actor. Shatner has an incredible level of energy for someone his age (really any age). When I saw him briefly after his performance, he did look a little weary, but then smiled warmly and told me he’d be on a plane to his next destination at 4 a.m.
Shatner knows how to tell a story. He uses his voice like a singer would, as an instrument to tease, cajole and pull the audience in and along. He could be equally effective with a whisper as he was with a shout. Some of his best stories were from his earlier performance days.
He told the audience about an acting award he won at camp in Canada (where he was born) when he was just six. This event virtually propelled him into a life of acting. Those who watched Shatner’s recent DIY series, The Shatner Project, in which he renovated his California home, know he still has that trophy. Shatner’s tales of the early days of live television were equally entertaining, in particular, one in which he worked with the legendary Lon Chaney Jr., who never quite realized when the cameras were finally on.
With such a long career and only 100 minutes, Shatner couldn’t dive too deeply into any part of his long filmography. He talked about early films, but mostly ignored any he made in the last two decades. Obviously, Shatner spoke of Star Trek, but also revealed his ambivalence about the role that has no doubt defined his career. In one taped clip, he spoke to another Star Trek captain, Sir Patrick Stewart, who admitted that he was fine with possibility being known only for playing Captain Jon Luc Picard on Star Tek The Next Generation. Shatner reveled that he, too was finally at peace with his relationship with the nearly 50-year-old series.
The sometimes acerbic actor spoke only briefly of his Star Trek co-stars, though images of many of them appeared in the large screen above and behind Shatner, noting that he doesn’t know why George Takei, who played Sulu along slide Shatner for many years, dislikes him.
Some of Shatner’s most affecting moments were when he spoke of his family (his father wanted him to be an accountant) and his love for animals. Shatner has been riding and training horses for years and told a rather long tale about one favorite horse, from the time he first found it until the horse had to, years later, be put down.
The thrice-married Shatner mentioned his first wife, whom he divorced, and second wife, who died suddenly. Not surprisingly, he devoted most of his attention to his current wife Elizabeth, whom he married in 2001 (and was featured in the DIY series).
The show races along in, more or less chronological order and soon Shatner was talking about his last successful series Boston Legal in which he starred with James Spader. Shatner clearly has a soft spot for Spader and ran a clip from the series finale in which the two appeared.
Shatner didn’t mention the short-lived Sh*t May Dad Says series, which was inspired by a popular social media account (he doesn’t mention TJ Hooker, either). This omission is notable, because throughout the 100 minute show, the legendary actor never mentions Twitter or Facebook. It’s a surprising considering how active and vocal he is on both platforms.
Ah, but perhaps that’s a topic for another show.
Shatner also has a knack for turning a negative into a positive. In 1968, at the height of the Star Trek’s initial television series run, Shatner recorded an album of sung and spoken lyric songs, The Transformed Man. It was not well received and has been derided for decades. However, when musician Ben Folds came calling to make another album, Shatner didn’t demur (the man has confidence to burn). The result is a moderately successful singing career. Perhaps, then, it’s only natural that Shatner ends the show with a song.
Ultimately, Shatner’s World: We Just Live In It is an entertaining and warm nearly-hour-and-a-half with a showman who has become a fixture in our lives. Shatner’s boundless energy and pacing keeps you engaged, but it’s the feeling that you’re listening to a family member tell tales that really makes it work. The fact that Shatner can pull off this feat at his age is impressive, but then Shatner has never been anything less than larger than life.
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