It's like watching a mad juggler adding more and more pieces to his act. You sit there with your mouth hanging open, a slightly dazed smile on your lips and about five minutes in, you realize that you're having one hell of a good time.
St. Louis Shakespeare's giddy child, Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, has slipped its banana to many an icon: Plan Nine from Outer Space, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This time it's
“Star Trek: LIVE”, two episodes of the classic series as seen through the skewed lenses of the Smoking Monkey players, and director Donna Northcott.
A bit of caution: I will be using some “Star Trek” lingo. If you are unfamiliar with some of the terms, please consult a local Trekkie. Everyone should have one nearby.
In the first episode, “Gamesters of Triskelion,” Captain Kirk (Jim Ousley), Lt. Uhura (Ron Strawbridge), and Chekov (Blaine Adams) are mistakenly beamed down to an unknown planet, where they are enslaved by disembodied brains known as The Providers. Doomed to fight to the death, Kirk and Co. wait for rescue from the Enterprise crew, while being drilled, or trained, by the resident slaves. With Captain Kirk and the others lost, Mr. Spock (Ed Cole), Dr. McCoy (Dave Cooperstein), and Mr. Scott (James Enstall) man the Enterprise, searching desperately for their lost men and...er, woman.
Action on the stage was mostly well-delineated, with on-ship action happening on one side of the set and off-ship action taking place on the other. The set itself was painted to represent the somewhat gaudy interior of the Starship Enterprise, but it was clear when things were happening on the slave planet, they were truly OFF of the ship. Occasionally there were players on both sides of the stage, doing their own thing, and for the most part, Monkey magic kept it separated. There were some muddled moments where I could not quite take in both bits and it was hard to choose one side or the other, so I let it engulf me. It was not always clear who was running the show, but I feel safe to shrug and say, “That's kind of what the Smoking Monkey does.”
There were some auditory snafus. Though William Shatner's Captain Kirk did. Occasionally. Speak. In. Bursts of. Phrases, and this has been the accepted parody of said character, sometimes Ousley's Kirk was a bit too much. He mugged appropriately for the audience, and when the broken speech faded a bit, he was much better understood and played Kirk's earnest arrogance spot-on. Speaking of mugging, I simply did not understand the hammed-up rap sequence with Kirk and Shahna (Suki Peters), a green-haired, buxom beauty that is one of the more popular of Kirk's conquests. I just didn't get it, and not being able to hear the lyrics over the soundboard, I could not suss out anything to help me understand. There weren't many of these jumbles, and the pace of the show moved at such a warp speed that it was easy not to focus on the mumbles and move right along.
The second episode, “Journey to Babel,” was a bit slower, and dealt with some espionage aboard the Enterprise, as well as some familial turmoil between Spock and his parents. Ed Cole's portrayal of Spock's logical and emotionless behavior was just flat enough so that when he did have a rare emotional moment, it was all the more amusing. Props also to Ben Ritchie and Amy Kelly as Spock's parents. Kelly's over-the-top humanness was laughably unpredictable, quite the opposite of Ritchie's wry deliveries.
I have less to say about “Journey to Babel,” mostly because I found the energy to flicker out towards the end. There was action and chaos but not much clarity. I knew what was happening, was following the plot (which adhered rather closely to the original episode, my Trekkie said), but I felt the interactions between characters a bit less meaningful, the dialog less-directed. That being said, I still had a silly smile pasted on my face, because gosh-darn-it, the cast was still having SO much FUN.
I listened to the audience at this show. Sometimes there were chuckles, occasionally there were belly laughs, and here and there a perplexed “Did they just go there?” And they did. Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre went for the cheesy slapstick, told the jokes that were truly tasteless, and boldly made pop culture references that no one has heard before. “Star Trek: LIVE” may be maximum warp speed to the planet Ridiculous, but if you let go and laugh a little, you'll like it there.