LOS ANGELES - A festive bow was tied on the final month of last year with my annual winter trip to London. This time, however, it was tied with a shiny double bow because the trip also included a Christmas party with Star Trek friends in Mannheim, Germany. It was a month filled with delights - a perfect December.
London is like opening an enticing Christmas present before Christmas. Goodies abound - great museums, fun restaurants, and, of course, the theater. At the British National Portrait Gallery there was a special exhibit of American portraits on loan from the U.S. National Gallery. "Madame De Pompadour, Images of a Mistress" was next door at the National Gallery. Somerset House, the magnificent palace on the river Thames, which became the former Royal Navy Office, and then partly the offices of the tax collector, Inland Revenue, has also become a handsome museum. The art collection of Britain's first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, was the special exhibit there.
The courtyard of Somerset House had been magically transformed into a festive ice skating rink spinning with happy skaters.
The great treat of London, for me, is its rich theater offerings. Classic revivals or exciting originals, London's West End in winter is a bejeweled theatrical Christmas tree. The new hit play of the season was David Hare's "The Breath of Life," starring two brilliant Dames - stalwart Judi Dench and the fabulous Maggie Smith. They play women who had both been in love with and been abandoned by the same man. Dame Maggie had the more interesting role and she inhabited her part completely. An uproariously funny new comedy titled, "The Lying Kind" by Anthony Neilson opens on a frosty Christmas Eve. Two English policemen have the unpleasant task of informing an elderly couple that their daughter had been killed in a horrible auto accident
And from there, if you can believe it, the comedy begins! It was hilarious - an amazing comic achievement. Classic revivals are always interestingly done in London and often rise to perfection. There was Noel Coward's drama "The Vortex," Oliver Goldsmith's restoration comedy, "She Stoops to Conquer," and, the best production I saw on this trip, George Bernard Shaw's "Mrs. Warren's Profession" starring Brenda Blethyn in a towering performance as Mrs. Warren and a luminous Rebecca Hall as her daughter. This is the kind of theater that makes a trip to London more than worth the jet lag and airport trauma.
The grand treat of this trip though was an undreamed of experience - dinner with the Dickens' Pickwick Club at the historic George and Vulture. The Chairman of the Club is none other than Cedric Charles Dickens the genial 85-year-old great grandson of the great Charles Dickens himself. He was the spitting image of Mr. Pickwick. Indeed, a goodly number of the members seemed to take on a similarly cherubic Pickwickian look. The George and Vulture, founded in 1600, where Charles Dickens used to dine regularly, was festooned with holiday decorations, the air was effervescent with good cheers and the table laden with savory Silverside of roast beef, winter vegetables followed by treacle tart and Stilton cheese - a proper Dickensian feast.
There were a series of Pickwickian toasts. My host, theater producer, Dennis Babcock, rose to introduce me. As I got up to acknowledge the applause, I sensed a slight breach of the Dickensian atmosphere as a few welcoming hands were raised in Vulcan salute made famous by Mr. Spock of Star Trek. There were Trekkers even amongst the Pickwickians! All these gentlemen however, exuded their love of Dickens from every pore of their bodies. I opened mine wide and happily absorbed in every wonderful moment. It was an indescribable experience. As a matter of fact, more than a few of the members asked me at the end of the dinner, "Isn't this an absolutely indescribable evening?" I agreed. This is only my feeble attempt at describing the indescribable.
I owe this treat beyond description to Dennis Babcock, an American member of the Pickwick Club. He was in town to prepare for the London opening of his comedy with music, "Triple Espresso" in January at the Arts Theater in the West End. I saw the production last summer in Minneapolis and enjoyed it thoroughly. I told him that I was planning to be back in London in February after the Starfleet Ball in Bournemouth, England, and would love to see his fun revue again. Quick-thinking producer that he is, Dennis immediately suggested that he make the night I see the play "George Takei Night at Triple Espresso." What a great idea, I agreed. Can we give my friends who come that night a break on the ticket price? He offered half off. It sounded like a good deal. We settled on the evening of February 13, 2003, for the George Takei night. So, if any of you should be in London on that Thursday night, I hope to see you there at the Arts Theater right off busy Shaftsbury Avenue. Just tell the box office people that you are a friend of George Takei to get the half-price tickets.
Then, I was off to Mannheim, Germany, for the Star Trek Christmas Party with other friends of George Takei. This event, organized by Sylvia Strybuc and Roger Hofstetter, was a charity benefit for Children with AIDS. It was a joyful gathering of friends and fans from Germany and Switzerland with actors who were the German voices of the many generations of Star Trek characters.
I was able to recognize almost immediately the actors that were the German vocal counterparts of Jean-Luc Picard and Katherine Janeway. Both were at once the very personifications of command authority combined with the warmth of genuinely gracious people. Of course, Father Christmas, or as we say in the U.S., Santa Claus, visited the party with presents for all. I even got to sit on his lap and serenade him with "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." It was all cheerful good fun. And it raised needed funds for a vital charity. The Christmas Party was a great way to celebrate together and, at the same time, support a humanitarian cause in the true spirit of Star Trek and Christmas. After the celebration, Sylvia and Karl Heinz took us to a Christmastime tradition all over Germany - the Christmas market in the center of the city around Mannheim's historic Water Tower. The Christmas market is a festively decorated village of temporary huts selling food, drinks, and colorful folk crafts of the holiday season. With frosty breath puffing, I bargained for tree ornaments, gift decorations and other holiday crafts. Christmastime in Mannheim 2002 will forever remain a bright, sparkling memory. Thank you Sylvia, Roger, and all the friends of George Takei there.
Back in Los Angeles, Sachie Kubo of Osaka, Japan, flew in for her winter vacation on Christmas day. Having crossed the international dateline, her Christmas was extended even longer than the normal 24-hour day. I invited her to join us for our family Christmas dinner but - poor thing - she was too jet-lagged to enjoy the festivities. She dozed fitfully throughout the dinner. Jet travel does extract an exhaustingly soporific price. Still, as sleepy as she may have been, she contributed an international feel to our Christmas of 2002. We live in a wonderful world where we do truly inhabit a global "infinite diversity in infinite combinations."