'Trek In The Park': Drama In The Final Frontier

Shakespeare in the Park is a common summer event, lending outdoor picnics a touch of classic drama. In Portland, Ore., a local theater company has taken the concept from Elizabethan England to the 23rd century. Atomic Arts is midway through its second year of Trek in the Park, faithfully re-enacting episodes of the original Star Trek for an outdoor audience.

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LYNN LYDEN, host:

Since the days of William Shakespeare, theater-goers have enjoyed outdoor performances of classic drama. This summer, Shakespeare in the Park is drawing crowds from Central Park to Seattle, Washington. But in Portland, Oregon, a local theater company is taking this old tradition into the 23rd century.

Deena Prichep explains.

DEENA PRICHEP: It's a hot Saturday night in Woodlawn Park in northeast Portland. Several hundred people are spilling out of an outdoor amphitheater. As soon as the play starts, it becomes clear that this is not going to be the usual highbrow summer offering.

This is theater with a different mission.

Mr. ADAM ROSKO (Actor): (as Captain Kirk) To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

PRICHEP: This is Trek in the Park. For the second year in a row, a local theater company presents a live performance of classic "Star Trek." This summer's episode is "Space Seed," where we meet the alluring villain, Khan.

Mr. RYAN CASTRO (Actor): (as Kahn): I caution - such men dare take what they want.

(Soundbite of music)

PRICHEP: Like the series that inspired it, this production is undeniably low budget. The props are minimal, the speakers fuzz out a bit during the opening song, and the costumes were sewn by Captain Kirk's mother.

But the actors are totally serious. Take Jesse Graff, who plays Mr. Spock. He met Leonard Nimoy earlier this year.

Mr. JESSE GRAFF (Actor): He signed my arm. I drove home, went to the tattoo parlor and got it tattooed that night.

PRICHEP: Did you hear that? He has Leonard Nimoy's signature tattooed on his arm.

Mr. GRAFF: And I regret nothing.

PRICHEP: Graff isn't alone in his enthusiasm for Star Trek. Despite 90 degree temperatures, tonight's performance is packed.

Joshua Oliver is back to see Trek in the Park for the second year in a row.

Mr. JOSHUA OLIVER: Its high drama, I don't think that Shakespeare could have written anything better. In fact, if Shakespeare were writing today, he'd probably be writing for the producers of "Star Trek."

PRICHEP: Shakespeare scholars might not agree. The bard's fight scenes didn't exactly include Vulcan neck pinches and flying kicks. But really, they're pretty great.

(Soundbite of music)

PRICHEP: Adam Rosko plays Captain Kirk. He founded the production company with his sister and also sees echoes of Shakespeare. He thinks that's why the show has such wide appeal. For all the space travel and mini-dresses, these are pretty timeless themes.

Mr. ROSKO: There's always the mistaken identity story, or there's always so-and-so's in love with that person, but they're betrothed to the other person. And it's fun.

PRICHEP: And in the end, and like any classic performance, Trek in the Park leaves the audience wanting more.

Mr. ROSKO: Join us next summer, because the voyage continues.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

PRICHEP: Trek in the Park's final performances for the 2010 season is this weekend.

For NPR News, Im Deena Prichep.

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