Live long and improvise


By Will McKinley

Start Trekkin” beams sci-fi improv down to Tribeca

Start Trekkin

The Tank

279 Church Street

(212-563-6369; thetanknyc.org)

I’ll admit it. I’ve been to a “Star Trek” convention. It was the ’70s and I was young and foolish. But it only happened once. And I didn’t wear Spock ears. I did however spend many Saturday afternoons during the Carter administration acting out imaginary episodes of the original series with my friends.

That’s exactly what the cast of “Start Trekkin” did on a recent Thursday night at The Tank, a performance space it shares with Collective Unconscious in Tribeca. Following a long run in Austin, Texas, and a command performance at the “Star Trek” Las Vegas Convention in 2005 (sadly, I was not there), cast member Ben Sterling has assembled a troupe of improvisers here in New York who invent full-length, comedic episodes of the sci-fi classic live on stage. There are no scripts, sets, special effects or cheesy Klingon costumes; just eight actors dressed in the familiar v-neck sweaters, boldly going where no improv has gone before.

If you’re looking for bad William Shatner imitations or campy “He’s dead Jim!” parody, look elsewhere. “Start Trekkin” is a respectfully funny homage, introducing us to a new collection of characters created by talented improv pros who are also fans of the “Trek” mythos. None of the cast members was even born when Captain Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise sailed off to a distant planet called Cancellation in 1969, but they all seem to understand the magic of the original, and how to translate it into an amusing, engaging piece of long-form improv.

The show began with Sterling, sporting epically long, Kirk-esque sideburns, questioning a volunteer from the audience about the name of his first childhood pet. The answer was “Cinnamon.”

Next, a situation was suggested and, moments later, the Starship Cinnamon began its sixty-minute mission. There was action, drama, romance, stolen dilithium crystals and a race of chronically short aliens. In the end, a lesson was learned and there was peace in the galaxy.

Most of the action was faithful to the “Trek” canon, with a few notable exceptions. As any true fan knows, all crewmembers clad in the red v-neck sweaters (known to the faithful as “redshirts”) are doomed to die in the line of duty. Such was not the case at the Tank, where the only crew member to bite the celestial dust was the Vulcan Lt. Doggett, played by the talented Aaron Saenz. I’m also pretty sure that Starfleet officers aren’t supposed to call each other “you guys” or wear frilly undergarments that are visible to the audience when they bend over to pick up a dropped tricorder.

And while we’re on the issue of accurate portrayals of “Trek” women, where were the micro-miniskirts and go-go boots that I enjoyed so much as a pre-pubescent viewer? I, for one, have always found it comforting to know that the mod fashions of the 1960s are going to experience a revival in outer space in the 23rd century.

But these are minor quibbles. The performers were clearly having a good time and so was the small but enthusiastic audience, who braved the blustery snow on a night that was chillier that a hug from Mr. Spock. After the show the cast posed for pictures with audience members, wielding old-school phasers. A few of those in attendance proudly confessed to being lifelong Trekkers (not “Trekkies” thank you) and seemed reluctant to leave the theater, as if they were hoping that an impromptu convention might break out.

After all, half the fun of the “Star Trek” experience is the characters — both those on the screen and those that choose to dress up like Klingons and hang out in the ballroom of the local Marriott. Not that I would know anything about that, of course.

For information on future performances of “Start Trekkin” visit myspace.com/starttrekkinny.