You might find lines from the Bard in this captain's logbook

September 27, 1990|By J. Wynn Rousuck

Starship alert! Starship alert! (Warning: Trekkies, take your seats. We cannot be responsible for the impact of the following transmission.)

The commander of the starship Enterprise, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, also known as Patrick Stewart, is not a science fiction fan.

"Gosh, no! Not at all. I have no enthusiasm for it whatsoever," the 50-year-old British actor confirms over the phone from his Los Angeles home.

Can this be? Not only has "Star Trek: The Next Generation" made him arguably the most recognizable bald actor since Yul Brynner, he even has his own fan club -- the International Audience Alliance for Patrick Stewart (IAAPS), which boasts more than 400 members and publishes a quarterly magazine devoted exclusively to him.

On Saturday at 8 p.m. in LeClerc Auditorium at Notre Dame College, Mr. Stewart will perform a one-man program of dramatic excerpts, "Uneasy Lies the Head," to benefit the IAAPS and its activities to promote literacy and the arts.

His appearance here is especially timely because at the end of last season Captain Picard was transformed into an evil robot-like creature known as a Borg. The first episode of the new season will be broadcast at 6 p.m. Sunday on WBFF-TV (Channel 45) and rebroadcast at 10 p.m. Oct. 6.

All summer, there was concern among "Star Trek" aficionados that Mr. Stewart was being written out of the series. But more on that later.

If Mr. Stewart isn't a sci-fi fan, what is his passion? In a word -- Shakespeare. A leading actor with Britain's esteemed Royal Shakespeare Company for more than 20 years, he has also contributed articles to a number of Shakespeare publications, an impressive credential for someone who left school at 15 because he was simply "not interested."

In addition, since the 1970s, he has been an associate director of the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Alliance for Creative Theatre, Education & Research (ACTER), an organization that uses British actors to teach Shakespeare's plays as living scripts, "not as pieces of intimidating literature." And he continues to lecture and teach "whenever possible."

In fact, he was delivering dramatic readings to accompany a lecture at UCLA when he was spotted by Robert Justman, a producer of the original "Star Trek," who was casting the syndicated sequel. "He claims he turned to his wife and said, 'We've found our captain,' " Mr. Stewart recalls.

As it happened, Mr. Stewart had previously acted in several science-fiction films, although he never consciously sought out the genre. "It's been an accident that for the past 10 or 15 years a lot of my film work has been science fiction or fantasy," he says, citing "Dune," "Lifeforce" and "Excalibur."

"Uneasy Lies the Head," the two-hour program he will perform Saturday, includes relatively little science fiction. Instead, it's "70 percent Shakespeare," he says, explaining that the dramatis personae include monarchs from plays he appeared in with the RSC, such as "Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2," "Henry V" and "Antony and Cleopatra," as well as various modern leaders he has played, including Churchill, Lenin, and of course, Capt. Jean-Luc Picard.

"It's about power and leadership," he says. "The conclusion is that for the most part, power is something which, once achieved, often proves to be very much less attractive than it appeared to be when it was being pursued."

Whenever he appears at "Star Trek" conventions, Mr. Stewart says he tries to perform some Shakespeare. Knowing his connection with the Bard, fans frequently write telling him they "have turned to Shakespeare for the first time or turned to him again after not having read his plays since school," he says proudly. "So that might be said to be a sort of missionary work."

Oh, yes. As to Capt. Picard's fate -- Mr. Stewart does acknowledge he's been shooting the fourth season, which means he hasn't been written out of the show.

But he's not giving any more away.

"Uneasy Lies the Head" at the College of Notre Dame, Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets $15. Call 486-1681.

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