William Shatner walked onto a stage tonight to tell us stories from his life. Thanks to Phatom Events, Shatner’s World was broadcast to movie theaters across the nation to allow its larger than life host to walk us through his childhood, his career as a stage actor working for the Stratford Shakespeare Company in Ontario, his involvement with Star Trek, and finally his unique singing career. His bizarre energy and sporadic self-deprecating made for an enjoyable and surreal evening at the theater.
I attended the show with my roommate, who had recently tried to sit through the Star Trek documentary entitled Captains on Netflix. Upon noticing that the documentary was directed, narrated, and starring William Shatner, while leaving the other actors who portrayed Star Fleet captains horribly out of balance, he decided to turn it off. Coming home from Shatner’s World however, we have renewed determination to sit through the documentary and get more of “the Shatner character.”
On stage, Shatner speaks as if he has started the show without knowing anything about what he’s going to say. This isn’t a criticism; most stage actors will tell you how important it is to convey to their audience that they’re experiencing the events of the show for the first time. This obviously is an illusion, as theatre requires a lot of rehearsal, and Shatner’s World has already been performed numerous times to rave reviews. So, the fact that it feels chaotic and improvised and haphazard is pretty impressive.
It’s difficult to define William Shatner’s energy in front of an adoring audience. Basically, he’s a hyperactive child begging for candy, but really just happy for the attention. One moment that highlights this idea is when early in the show, Shatner discusses his early love of vaudeville comedy. During this section, he kept dancing back and forth across the stage to deliver different punch lines. His love of comedy is a recurring theme throughout the show, as Shatner tries to keep the audience entertained by infusing comedy into the mundane experiences of his life. At one point, Shatner offers an anecdote of when he was doing a Broadway play and swapped a paper the lead actor was supposed to rip up with a piece of parchment that couldn’t be torn. In the middle, he dives into a tangent of when he was a kid and sawed through the legs of his family’s dining room table, which collapsed later that evening once dinner had put on it. His tendency to go off on tangents or jump around in time works to varying degrees throughout the show. There are some legitimately funny moments here, which feel organic and earned. Other moments feel like they used to be organic, and maybe Shatner got a laugh where he wasn’t expecting one and then started milking those moments in all future shows. These moments range from cute and affable, to hopelessly desperate.
I waited through the entire show to see if there was going to be a director credited for the show. I was surprised to see that there was a director (Michael McNamara). I feel like a lot of Mr. McNamara’s role as a director was cueing the various photos and videos used in the show, but find it hard to believe he actually had a hand in blocking the show, and choreographing Shatner’s movements on stage. Again, it just feels too chaotic and improvised.
One of the most interesting elements of Shatner’s World is the presence of Shatner’s chair, which at different times in the show serves to represent other characters, a rat, a horse, and of course more conventional things like a car and a regular old chair. The empty chair is an apt metaphor for the show overall.
I also found the use of other media throughout the show very interesting. The clips Shatner chose to highlight his show were as entertaining and odd as Shatner’s own personality. A favorite moment was when he showed his appearance at a banquet honoring George Lucas, and playing up a sketch that he thought he was at a Star Trek convention. It was fun. More bizarre choices include the monologue he chose to show from the original series of Star Trek talking about risk being the business of the enterprise. That made no sense to me. Also, his choice of clip from Boston Legal made me never want to watch that show. In the clip, Shatner and James Spader, who play partners at the same law firm have gotten married for some legal purpose, and they spend a quiet evening drinking on the building’s roof bickering like an old married couple. The scene is very situational and jokey, especially with no context.
Overall, this was one of the most unique theater going experiences I’ve had. I went in with no expectations, and I found the end result to be absurd and entertaining, and sometimes absurdly entertaining. I love how Phantom Events brings stuff like this to local movie theaters so that a broader audience can choose to experience them. Thus far, I’ve only attended Phantom’s showings of Rifftrax live, and plan to do so again when they live riff the Syfy original epic Sharknado this July. I hope to catch more of these theatrical events as they become available.