Long before he expressed his fondness for cheap leather, and decades before he stood on that fantastic island with his tiny friend and waited for “Da Plane”, Ricardo Montalban was a galactic warlord. He was Kahn, the greatest nemesis that Captain Kirk and his crew ever faced onboard the USS Enterprise.
The Star Trek episode Space Seed was first aired in January of 1967, and it has played ever since in Re Runs and led to the Theatrical sequel, The Wrath of Kahn.
On Saturday I drove down to Portland Oregon to watch Atomic Theater’s Star Trek in the Park, as they performed the episode Space Seed. This is the second year that Atomic Theater has done Star Trek. Each weekend in July they put on the show and the popularity of the event was evident. About 300 people showed up and by the time the show started people were sitting 8 deep behind the stage (By stage I mean a flat spot of grass surrounded by an elevated berm in front and a large field on the back side.)
From the moment the show started with the dramatic introduction leading into a live vocalist singing that famous theme song, all the way until the end when the audience was treated to a “preview” of next summer’s show, Star Trek in the Park was amazing. It was funny, full of inside jokes, had action, tension, and top notch staging. The set consisted of nothing more than a captain’s chair, an empty frame that doubled as a decompression chamber, and a door way to every room on the ship. Everything else was mimed and in my opinion, the invisible set pieces like Kahn’s sleeping chamber, the engineering department and the bridge computers were as impressive as the original plywood, paint, and foam versions from the show. In comparison to the simplicity of the set, the costumes and props were fully realized and accurate to the original designs, which enhanced the 1960’s quality of the production.
In the end it was the actors who sold the show. Line by line, they played the script accurately but got the joke and so did the audience. Theater allows for interpretation, and the best moments of this performance happened when one of the actors would pause for just a moment after a particularly funny line. Actually the best moment was the fight scene. Every episode of Star Trek needs a fight between Kirk and his antagonist and the biggest applause at the show came when Kirk nearly overcome by a more powerful foe, feints at just the right moment before knocking Kahn out with a massive plastic wrench.
The audience was great as well. A few people were dressed up including the guy in front of me wearing a uniform from the Next Generation series, claiming to not be a Trek fan… Right… For the most part however, this was a typical Portland audience, and the sort of event that makes Portland the great city that it is.
I’ll make a leap and put forward the idea that Star Trek is Shakespearean Theater for many of our generation. It’s entertainment for the masses but embedded with deeper themes. I think an even greater correlation is longevity. Yes Shakespeare has held his own 500 years later, and Star Trek has only been around for 40, but what other show in the last century has continued to keep itself relevant through both reinvention and reruns? Like Shakespeare, Star Trek lends itself to interpretation and whether it’s on the grand scale as a 200 million dollar film, or on the local scale as self funded theater, the core of intelligence, wonder, and of course humor is what makes it so compelling to so many people. Still I’d love to see some other shows attempt to take on this theatrical mantle. Maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see CHiPS in the Park, A-Team in the Park, or even Fantasy Island in the Park.
Please check out Atomic Art’s Website. http://www.atomic-arts.org/ They are a talented group. I’d love to call out individual performances, but everyone played their part perfectly, including the live musicians. Sadly Star Trek in the Park is over for the year BUT they did say they will be performing one more time on August 29th at the Baghdad Theater, and then showing Wrath of Kahn on the big screen after wards. It’s worth the drive.