After a half-century of absence — he’s been busy doing other things, he’d like you to know — William Shatner is back on Broadway. He has acquired life experience, sweet and bitter. Much of it sweet, judging by his waistline. (At a near-spherical 80 years young, he still bounces around the stage like a Pilates ball.) He’s accumulated a hundred wisdom tales, a thousand sage apothegms, and an Aeron chair: “My co-chair for the night,” cracks the once and future Captain Kirk, in the first of many Borscht Belt asides. His one-man show is Shatner’s World: We Just Live in It, and it’s more or less everything you’d expect it to be, only more so.
Barely scripted, often free-associative, and held together with video clips so queasy-fuzzy Shat might well have bought them on Canal Street en route to the theater, Shatner’s World is a unique end-user Broadway experience. For non-Trekkers, I’d put it somewhere between attending the Charlie Sheen Comedy Tour and getting trapped in a basement with an eccentric grandparent who has recently discovered YouTube. For the faithful — those who thrill visibly at every out-of-focus glimpse of the Gorn — Shatner’s World is much more. It is nothing less than Beowulf’s final battle, the mortal bellow of a supernovan ego in the face of Death. (A face that, in all likelihood, resembles Ricardo Montalban’s, but alas, The Wrath of Khan vid-rights apparently could not be had, and we settle for some stand-issue glowering from Shat-pal Christopher Plummer in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.).
There is also a brief rhapsody on horse semen.
But Scott, is the show any good? whines the Tribble gallery. Good? GOOD?! Let me repeat: This is Shatner and an (often uncooperative) Aeron chair, dueling with each other for 90 minutes. Showing pictures of horses. (He raises horses. He likes horses. A lot.) Cracking jokes that were entombed with Henny Youngman. Making fun of George Takei. Meditating on the great beyond. (“Death … is the undiscovered country.”) Showing more pictures of horses. Taking partial credit for the American space program. Talking about losing wives (for eight seconds) and losing horses (for 25 minutes). “Singing.” Waking up in lots of weird places. Assuring us he was “never a hanger-on.” More horses. For some, it will seem like a pilgrimage. For others, a con.
Shatner’s World is at the Music Box Theatre through March 4.