Monday, October 17, 2005

De Lancie said he had no further Q projects in the works—no novel or audio (as the two “Q and Spock” dialogues he did with Leonard Nimoy.) His opinion is that Star Trek is over, at least for the foreseeable future. He is of the “they went to the well too often” school, suggesting that three series done by the same people had perhaps been too much.

In the printed program for that evening’s performance, Star Trek is barely mentioned in de Lancie’s credits, sandwiched between “The Closer” and “Legend” in a list of “numerous television shows.” Instead his film and theatre work, and particularly his performances with symphony orchestras were emphasized. In addition to performing with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Montreal Symphony, he has written and directed ten Symphonic Plays, and a concert series for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He is scheduled to direct several operas in Atlanta. He has kept his hand in the science fiction field as well. In addition to Alien Voices, he’s produced television specials for the Sci-Fi Channel.

As for the opening performance itself, it was staged with simplicity and strength, and the script provided vivid historical context. The production was dramatic while still being fair and reasonably faithful to the actual events. The set was comprised of simple tables and chairs on two levels. The actors read from scripts in hand. There was a director onstage who cued sound and light effects. You know, Q de Lancie! (Sorry, couldn’t help it.)

On this particular night, the trial judge was played by another Star Trek actor, Jerry Hardin, who spoke with the same accent he used playing Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain in TNG’s “Time’s Arrow,” although he looked more as he did in TNG’s “”When the Bough Breaks.”

De Lancie’s authoritative Q voice served him well, although Darrow doesn’t have particularly brilliant speeches. His big moment is the cross-examination of Bryan towards the end of the play. (Our local talent, Bo Banduci, did very well as the 14 year old who testified as to what his teacher had said about evolution. Banduci’s strong voice and assured performance matched up very well with de Lancie, who questioned him.)

My strongest impression was that this production revealed the unique strengths of staging a radio drama (or, at least, this particular one), and exposed an area of potential weakness. The strength is in adding the visual dimension to riveting oratory. There were two transcendent examples of this, both in the first act. The first was a speech delivered with consummate skill by Edward Asner. He had captivated the audience immediately, with his theatrical pronunciation of “evil-lution”---no doubt something that the theatrical Bryan would have done. But he didn’t have a real speech until well into the first act, but when he did, it was a dandy.

Then the first act ended with the most powerful oratory of the trial, delivered by neither Bryan nor Darrow, but by Dudley Malone, a defense attorney who had said little to that point. It was delivered in this production with spellbinding intensity and consummate skill by Steppenwolf Theatre Company actor Francis Guinan (any relation? He didn’t look El-Aurian). Bryan himself called it the greatest speech he ever heard.

But after the long first act ended with these verbal fireworks, the shorter second act seemed to lack its energy. Darrow’s cross-examination of Bryan is the dramatic climax of the play and film version of “Inherit the Wind,” (also based on this trial, though with a stronger point of view) which emphasizes Bryan’s increasingly desperate defense of his belief in the more or less literal interpretation of the Bible as scientific fact. But on this night, in this production, it seemed to fall a little flat.

It may have been that de Lancie and Asner didn’t have their timing down yet. Maybe the writing wasn't as sharp, or maybe it was just me---I was tired. But it could also be a problem inherent in the form. Bryan’s breakdown, partly physical (he died a few days later) is more subtle than the oratory. Perhaps those in the first few rows who could see Asner’s face clearly, or hear the nuances in his soft tones, had a different experience. (I’m hoping to catch the radio broadcast of this performance on the campus station to hear this scene again, without trying to see it.) But this may be something that staged radio drama can’t do as well as either radio or fully produced stage or screen drama.

The issues of the Scopes trial and the continuing evolution debate touch upon concerns that are important in Star Trek, though in some sense Star Trek reconciles them: it represents science and soul.

But I suppose my greatest impression in experiencing this production and applying it to Star Trek is my gratitude that for most of its run on television and in film, Star Trek clearly came from this rich, complex, wondrous and profoundly human tradition of theatre and classic movie (and radio) storytelling, and not from video games.

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