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Trek in the Park: Know Before You Go

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Trek in the Park—the rabidly popular summertime lark that sees local actors bluster and fight and preen through spot-on adaptations of classic Star Trek episodes—launches into its third season this weekend.

If past is prologue, that means thousands of people will once again find themselves stuffing Woodlawn Park's lamentably tiny amphitheater for a free glimpse every weekend this month. Which is most logical. The show is free. But, way more importantly, it's fucking fantastic.

True nerds, bless them, have been plotting their outfits for this year's production—an adaptation of the 1967 masterpiece "Mirror, Mirror"—ever since last year's ended. But that hardly explains why the rest of you dweebs show up so religiously. Because let's be honest: Most of you couldn't tell Kirk's stabbed son from Picard's burned-up nephew.

Don't want to feel so lost this year? We can help. Read this primer and maybe, just maybe, when the guy sitting next to you awkwardly attempts a Vulcan salute, you'll know what to do. (The answer? Ignore him. Because anyone who does that in public is pathetic and shouldn't be encouraged.)

THE PREMISE: If you people had bothered to watch even one measly episode, you'd know at least this much: "These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise"—an interstellar spacecraft 250 years in the future. It's on a five-year mission to extend the military and economic might of an America-like assemblage of peace-loving planets called the Federation. It's also tasked with checking the expansionist impulses of the Soviet-like Klingons and Red China-like Romulans.

THE TRIUMVIRATE: Today's captain is James T. Kirk, a pot-bellied womanizer, enfant terrible, brawler, and onetime murder suspect who breaks hearts and Starfleet rules so often he's probably, technically, a sociopath. How wicked is Kirk? He gained his commission even though he famously cheated during Starfleet Academy's exit exam.

Kirk's No. Two—and total BFF—is a tall, logic-loving half-Vulcan (with daddy issues) named Spock. Vulcans, incidentally, are the secret sauce on the Federation's burger. They can read minds! They only need to mate every seven years! And they can pass on their souls when they die!

They also have creepy green blood and demonically pointed ears—something Kirk's other confidant, the grumpy and stridently racist ship's doctor, Leonard "Bones" McCoy, never tires of noting. Again and again and again.

THE OTHERS: Need more proof Star Trek was written by a cop-turned-hippie in the throes of the Cold War? A weird rainbow coalition makes up the rest of the crew: A deep-voiced Asian man (Sulu) drives. A Russian with teen-idol hair (Chekov) fires the weapons. A black woman in a miniskirt (Uhura) makes the phone calls. And a drunk Scotsman who specializes in lowering expectations (Scotty) is chief engineer.

YESTERDAY'S FUTURE: Replicators produce complex meals on demand—but no one ever eats anything interesting. Transporter beams instantly send people hundreds of miles away by dividing, memorizing, and then transmitting their molecular makeup—but sometimes the beams mistakenly send them to mirror dimensions where everyone good is evil. Handheld lasers can vaporize targets—but Hollywood-style judo moves always win the day.

Oh, and ships can travel way faster than light—and sometimes through time!—but those same advanced ships inexplicably run on a rare, expensive, and non-renewable energy source: dilithium crystals.

Well, shit. Maybe Star Trek isn't that hard to figure out after all.

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