Seating space: the final frontier. Rapidly growing and ever more eclectic (though, shall we say, far from diverse) crowds have overwhelmed the smallish amphitheater within Northeast Portland's Woodlawn Park to catch a performance of the third season of Trek in the Park. Refashioning a different voyage of the Starship Enterprise each year, Atomic Arts this summer chose parallel universe potboiler "Mirror, Mirror," a fan favorite renowned for equating trimmed facial hair with palpable evil, incorporating a theater in the round approach to better serve the late-arriving hordes pushed to the fringes, midst small children and smaller dogs. Thanks to broad performances and a cheekily DIY aesthetic, the stripped-down spectacle remained shamefully captivating from a distance, aided by source material containing little more than inexplicably exultant expository passages.
Much as the well orchestrated flourishes of kitsch-chic—deft stabs of retro synths, enviable space-age ensembles and lime colored stacking chairs, the only real set decoration apart from the captain's chair and a metallic door frame suggesting a transporter—smartly nudged proceedings away from empty camp hijinks, the most revelatory moments came about when the crowds quieted and helplessly began to pay attention. No matter the dopey grandiloquence of the orations or absurdity of the setting, the physicality of the actors ennobled the stupidest of story lines, particularly when set against the ham-fisted edits and fixed camera shots we all dimly remember from the original program. The weaknesses of some portrayals momentarily seemed an inspired artistic decision.
While there was some question among first-time attendees about whether or not Adam Rosko would stoop to imitation of the original James T. Kirk—turns out, anyone thrusting those peculiarly metered declarations leans Shatnerian—nobody thought much about Spock. But Jesse Graff commanded the park with a magnetic portrayal of the malevolent doppelganger (he's a tad more Zachary Quinto than Leonard Nimoy, if you're curious). Through force of presence and a considerable height advantage, Graff literally towered over Rosko's empty swagger until, at once, the captain came thrillingly alive during an extended and near balletic brawl between the two that silenced even the corgis. For better or worse, these characters still hold a lingering resonance for generations of Americans; sometimes, to rediscover all that was once vital and incandescent of myths too often told, you have to explore strange new worlds.
SEE IT: Woodlawn Park, Northeast 13th Avenue and Dekum Street, trekinthepark.com. 5 pm Saturdays-Sundays through July 31. Free.