Ask William Shatner a simple question like, oh, "How are you?" and he comes back with, "I am reeking of vitality," a phrase that seems to sum him up pretty well, all things considered.
It has echoes of his youth as a Shakespearean actor in director Tyrone Guthrie's Stratford, Ontario; shades of the confident, irony-free verbosity we associate with the over-articulate but formidably dependable Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise; and a flicker of the gleefully excessive self-parody we associate with Shatner's later years, camping it up in commercials forPriceline.com, even allowing them to kill his character off when it suited them. He went down in style and was handsomely compensated for his demise.
Shatner is beaming himself down to the Auditorium Theatre on Friday night for his decidedly singular take on a Broadway tour. "Shatner's World: We Just Live In It" had a brief engagement (by design) on Broadway earlier this year at the Music Box Theatre, and then the 81-year-old actor, whose public is hardly confined to Manhattan, immediately took to the road in energetic fashion. He's doing 15 cities in one month. Pretty much one night at a time.
He's not big on small talk on peripheral matters. We were talking on the day after the Oscars. He lives in Los Angeles; perchance he'd been to a party or watched the show. "The Oscars took place," he said, sardonically, "in my bedroom. While I slept."
With that understood, we got down to business. He says that the one-man show, something of a celebration of his personality and a retrospective of his long career as an actor (with clips aplenty), had its origins as a speaking tour in Australia.
"I went down there and did some stuff," Shatner said. "There was a 'local personality' doing the interviewing in each of the cities I visited. I made sure the guy got to say about three words and then I shut him up. After that, I thought, well, I have a one-man show now.' Then Canada wanted to do it. The big hurdle was Toronto. In Toronto, the critics think they are so important. They like to skin you."
Perchance this is because Shatner is, of course, Canadian. But he does not really want to go there.
"The big question was whether or not I was good enough, whether or not the material was good enough," Shatner said. "I obsessed over it for the longest time."
But after much self-review, he found himself to be good enough. And now, doggone it, people like him. The reviews on Broadway were, if taken as a whole, really not bad. He was generally declared to have earned his cultural victory lap.
"I really thought that the time for me to do Broadway was long past," Shatner said. "Still, people came."
So is the show, well, camp? Self-parodying?
Shatner does not like any such characterization.
"That's not what's happening," he said. "This show will make you laugh because I know how to write and perform funny lines. But the show has a meaning, content and an arc. You'll feel thoughtful, you'll be moved, you'll see the various aspects of who I am.
"I've been told the show's unique and that people haven't seen anything quite like this — it evolves into a more revealing aspect of me. And this show thus becomes my love letter to the people who come and see me. I've never had a reaction in the theater like I have been having here. I feel it come across the footlights."
Are there Shatner life lessons, and what might they be? "I get into that."
Does he confront his own mortality? "I get into that too. I talk about what love means, what death means. I try to do so amusingly. Those are astute questions."
But he does not dally thereupon. So why a one-night stand? Does he not want to stay awhile?
"Heck," Shatner said, "if half of Chicago turns out to see me, then I will do two nights."
But he won't hold a grudge if it turns out otherwise. Shatner has long learned to control the force but go with the flow. I note that I'm looking forward to seeing his show, even if it will be gone before we hardly notice. "I hope I haven't oversold it," Shatner says, cagily.
"Not at all," I say.
"Good," comes the firm reply.
"Shatner's World: We Just Live In It," 8 p.m. Friday at Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway; $52.50-$300 at 800-982-2787 or ticketmaster.com
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