RedEye

Shatner's world is out there, but worth the trip

"Meet my co-chair," William Shatner observed from the stage of Auditorium Theatre Friday night, whereupon a seat on wheels was flung in the general direction of the man who once flew the Starship Enterprise. Ah, such a night for cutting-edge comedy. "My sister had an exorcism," Shatner observed a bit later on, "but she couldn't afford to pay for it, so they repossessed her." You'd think with material like that he'd have been here all week, but, alas, it was just Friday night.

In reality, Shatner's co-chair for the aptly titled solo show "Shatner's World: We Just Live in It" (on Broadway a few weeks ago and now a national tour of one-night stands) was the ever-genial 80-year-old himself. We saw images of Shatner doing Shakespeare in Stratford, Shatner on the bridge of the Enterprise, Shatner joshing with James Spader on "Boston Legal," Shatner delivering a graduation speech at McGill University (saying, "Don't be afraid to make an ass of yourself"), Shatner staring at horses. There was even (in a particularly surreal moment in a wholly bizarre show) a clip of Shatner playing his own death, or at least his most famous character's death, accompanied by some serious observations on how our hero will actually meet his maker, at which time some camera or other will perhaps be rolling.

Yet, as outrageously bad as some of this prattle surely was, it's impossible to feel mad at Shatner or even resist such an overt burnishing of his personal brand. This even though the ubertext of the night was, and I am paraphrasing here, "All of those people you saw me play had a little bit of me in them, but I'm actually made up of more than that." So there you go: There is more to Shatner than Captain Kirk. This, we already knew. Of that, the man has made sure.

Shatner at least had (still has) the looks, and, if you look beyond his bravado, the raw talent that makes his populist success in the showbiz lottery far less egregious than that of many other celebrities with Broadway vehicles of their own. And by shrewdly cultivating an image of self-parody just when his first star began to fade, he comes off as a jocular, honest, inoculated and constantly self-reinvented man who has earned his money and with whom one would surely enjoy spending some time. Since his arrival in Chicago pretty much coincided with convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich heading to prison, I kept thinking all night how Shatner so easily manages to attract what Blagojevich so badly wanted (but could not get) from the public in his endless series of press conferences and personal appearances: affection, warmth and wry appreciation for an eccentric and an outsider who played the game but laughed at all the other fools. Blago did not come up during the show. But most of Shatner's life did — the war stories of theatrical matters gone awry, the odd dig at Leonard Nimoy.

The best clip of this clip-job of a show was an appearance Shatner made at a tribute to George Lucas. Our host set it up beautifully, explaining that the hosts of the event had said that the gag would be that Lucas made"Star Wars" and Shatner made"Star Trek," so all Shatner had to do was come out and people would laugh. "What if George Lucas doesn't laugh?" Shatner says he presciently asked, before agreeing to do it anyway. Would you expect otherwise from the Priceline Negotiator?

As the clip reveals, Lucas (along with such fellow royalty as Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford) does not laugh so much as stare at Shatner with bemused contempt. And with that, you instantly like a guy who has every right to his place in the sci-fi hall of fame but does not require any dignity to go with it, unlike the more portentous practitioners of the same art.

Therein — along with demonstrably unabated energy, a love of risk, a perpetual romantic attitude and a determination to tell his own brand of the truth — lies Shatner's endless appeal. As he modestly pointed out Friday, his voice echoing around the well-filled Auditorium Theatre, they still love him down at NASA, just as they still boldy go where no man has gone before.

cjones5@tribune.com

Twitter@ChrisJonesTrib

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Genealogy gold mine: Millions of wills now online

    Genealogy gold mine: Millions of wills now online

    Thousands of amateur genealogists who fantasize about being left a fortune by a distant relative can now get a reality check. Starting Wednesday, upward of 100 million wills written over the last three centuries will be posted to Ancestry.com, the popular genealogical search engine.

  • Northerly Island Park opens Friday on Chicago lakefront

    Northerly Island Park opens Friday on Chicago lakefront

    Twelve years after former Mayor Richard M. Daley's "midnight raid" that shut down the small lakefront airstrip called Meigs Field, a new park will open Friday on the southern portion of what is now called Northerly Island, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday.

  • American recalls French train attack on Jimmy Fallon show

    American recalls French train attack on Jimmy Fallon show

    A California man who was one of three Americans who helped subdue a gunman on a high-speed train traveling to Paris says he couldn't have picked better people to be with that day.

  • Historic Gold Coast rowhouse for $1.375M

    Historic Gold Coast rowhouse for $1.375M

    855 N. Dearborn, Chicago $1,375,000 Listed on May 13, 2015 This historic three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath rowhouse is in the heart of Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood. The three-story home has three decks, including a rooftop deck. The home also features hardwood flooring, central air conditioning...

  • Northerly Island Park: Beguiling lakefront landscape justifies Daley raid

    Northerly Island Park: Beguiling lakefront landscape justifies Daley raid

    A dozen years after Mayor Richard M. Daley carried out the infamous “midnight raid” that shut down the small lakefront airport called Meigs Field, the question lingers: Did the end justify the means?

  • 'A Walk in the Woods' is soft and mushy

    'A Walk in the Woods' is soft and mushy

    Because “A Walk in the Woods” quickly wanders from a funny look at life at a crossroads to an obvious series of embarrassing nonsense and basic observations about nature and people, let’s just rattle off some things bumbling around my head during the movie:

Comments
Loading
88°