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Caught in the Orbit of 'Shatner's World'

Bad Billy re-runs his life from Captain Kirk to Denny Crane

By Richard Whittaker, 2:38PM, Fri. Jan. 11, 2013

William Shatner takes us on a trip his world
William Shatner takes us on a trip his world

William Shatner folds a jacket. And you remember exactly why he has become an icon.

It was his father who taught him how to fold a jacket. His father, Joseph, was a clothing manufacturer, and even though Bad Billy didn't join the family business, Joseph made sure his son knew how to fold a jacket for shipping to a customer. Decades later, that memory is still with him.

That's the core and the key of Shatner's World, the one man show that the 81 year old actor is taking nationally after a Broadway run. It's stories and anecdotes and clips that matter to Shatner. At the Paramount Theatre last night, the legend (don't debate it) took the stage like the naughty child, Bad Billy, that got him into trouble. It was Bad Billy that took him on the road and to the stars, the risk taker who has bounced back time and again. He's dapper these days, wearing a three piece suit and that twinkle-eyed grin. Somewhere to the side of the stage are the years that must have fallen away as he bounces in the spotlight.

It's quick, easy and boring to say that Shatner is a bad actor. I took my fair share of flak for even going to the show. You think that Patrick Stewart was the first Shakespearean actor to helm a Federation star ship? Puh-lease. Shatner understudied for Christopher Plummer in Henry V. He's no rookie who can't run through a line, and his explanation of how that patented clipped-yet-breathy delivery evolved involves panic and the original run of The World of Suzie Wong. He's big, declarative, bombastic, sure. That trademark over-emphasis, loaded with pauses and gabble, is still there. Now it's loaded with the rich purr of old age, like the Scotch he shared with James Spader on the balcony for Boston Legal.

Shatner is a regular on the convention circuit, an accomplished raconteur and spinner of tall-ish tales who knows how to hold a room. But Shatner's World is more structured, taking him from summer camps in Montreal to subverting the celebrity album with Ben Folds. Throughout, there are his travails and trials and tribulations with love: His love of the stage, of the attention, of his privacy, of his family, of his horses. Throughout, an office chair is his sole prop, and his sole co-actor. It's his father's coffin, a mountain gorilla, the camper van he lived in when he was broke, divorced, and down on his luck. He rides it, spins it, shows it respect and fear and adoration. It's his dance partner for a life that has been lived hard, wrung out, and lived again. And the show is Shatner's chance to tell the parts that have been left in space dock.

The truth is, Shatner doesn't speak. He runs at words, gobbles them up, like he's trying to make space for more, more, more. It's a jam-packed life that he crowbars into the 100-minute show, and it's not about Star Trek. There's more about his childhood obsession with the anatomic bomb Lili St. Cyr and the perils of playing a saddle-free Alexander the Great than there is about his time in the captain's chair. And when the Enterprise is mentioned, it's about his journey to dealing with his legacy. It's the rough with the smooth, the charming senility of Denny Crane versus the toupee-clad stupidity of T.J. Hooker.

Has he earned a one-man show? He's goddamn William Shatner. Of course he has. His self-absorption is tinged with self-reflection. He gets to wake up every morning and know he inspired a generation of astronauts and NASA engineers. How does he know? They told him so. But for every moment of wonder and awe at the scale of his own achievements, there's a tale of hunting a rat in the snow in his underwear.

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