July 11, 2010
The essential question, when sitting among 400 or so people who have
come to a park to watch a word-by-word recreation of a "Star Trek"
episode is, "Am I in church?"
To clarify: The roots of theater go back to when the priests of
Western Europe had people act out biblical stories for the moral
edification of their congregations. These life-long churchgoers
already knew the stories, but, arguably, the reason the
Judeo-Christian tradition has hung around for so long is that so many
of the stories are so darned good. The one, for instance, in which
God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac is spectacularly
awful, in that the father complies unquestioningly, but it does etch
into memory a lasting lesson about obedience and, because a ram is
substituted at the last minute, mercy.
The story enacted by the Atomic Arts performers in their second
annual "Trek in the Park" is "Space Seed," a 1967 episode from the
original canon. The Enterprise comes upon a spaceship containing
barely alive bodies in suspended animation who turn out to be from
the planet earth in the 1990s, what Mr. Spock calls "a strange and
violent period." Their leader is Khan, played in the episode by
Ricardo Montalban, who has been bred to be a super-soldier in the
Eugenics Wars. Khan is brought on board the Enterprise and revived,
which turns out not to be a good move. The ship's historian Lt. Marla
McGivers falls for Khan, and assists him in his villainy.
The episode is ripe for moral explication. Loyalty is shown to be of
great value. The quality of mercy that exists on the Enterprise is
made manifest when Captain Kirk allows Lt. McGivers the choice to go
into exile with Khan rather than face court martial. Good vs. evil is
vividly portrayed as a physical fight between Kirk and Khan. John
Milton's Satan in "Paradise Lost" (whose purpose was to "justify the
ways of God to men") is evoked.
The idea that the series has religious elements is not new. For
instance, in her book "The Ethics of Star Trek" author Judith Barad,
a professor of philosophy at Indiana University, notes the role of
Christian ethics and asserts that "One reason why Star Trek has
endured... is that most of the stories ... are indeed moral fables."
Rabbi Yonassan Gershom, in "Jewish Themes in Star Trek," identifies
The local reenactment of the episode can be seen in the park on
weekends, and it is unexpectedly polished. Lines are said without a
stumble, actors come and go without a hitch, and the familiar sound
effects are faithfully reproduced. The costumes are true to the
original, with Lt. Uhura's wig a presence all its own. The entire
production has the air of an enthusiastic but respectful labor of love.
There is a good deal of audience reaction, especially laughter. It
must be stressed, however, that this is in no way a parody. The
laughter seems to come from a delight at the familiar, at a sound
effect or a costume faithfully rendered, and from the sheer joy of
seeing our own walking in the footsteps of the gods.
So, yes, this is church: a church whose members bring their kids and
their picnics, applaud with zest, and seem to believe optimistically
that the future holds endless possibility.
Trek in the Park
When: 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Aug. 1.
Where: Woodlawn Park, at the corner of N.E. Claremont Ave. and N.E. Oneonta St.