Why is there not more parody on stage today?

Here's an example of why.Playing at the Wings Theater in Greenwich Village is "Space Trek," which calls itself a musical comedy spoof of the "Star Trek" phenomenon, with book by Marc Lipitz and music and lyrics by Rick Crom.

It makes no claims to high art.

Captain Quirk is in command of the Starship Energize when the villain Harry Crudd traps it with a terrible force lost since the 20th century: Yoko Ono's vocalizations. Harry wants intergalactic headlines and a guest spot on Howard Stern. There are lyrics about ensigns being lower than elephant dung at the zoo or Pia Zadora's I.Q. You get the idea.

Nonetheless, a lawyer for Paramount, Barry I. Slotnick (not that Barry Slotnick; his cousin), sent the theater a letter saying that the show was no parody but a "substantial taking" that would "ultimately erode the distinctiveness of the `Star Trek' property."

However, he went on, Paramount had monitored attendance at the theater and concluded that "should we seek an immediate injunction against continued performances, we would provide more publicity of greater magnitude than that which your client would be able to achieve on its own merits." Instead, he proposed, if the theater and the authors would guarantee that the show would never be performed again, anywhere, Paramount would be willing to forgo legal action.

Slotnick did not return phone messages left at his office.

The theater agreed not to stage the show after the scheduled run ends Dec. 31. The authors say they feel buffaloed.

"Everybody lampoons `Star Trek' - Mad magazine, `Saturday Night Live,' The National Lampoon," Lipitz said. "St. Martin's Press has an eight-volume series called `Star Wreck.' If Paramount can do this to little guys like us, they can shut down any theatrical parody just by threatening them. If only institutions can lampoon institutions, then we're in trouble.

"Besides," he cracked, "if they think we're harming the empire, they haven't seen `Generations,' the Star Trek movie they've got out now."

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The law is probably with "Space Trek," said Martin Garbus, a prominent copyright lawyer. "If it's parody," he said, "whether it's good or bad, it's absolutely protected under the First Amendment."

But law or no law, in the real world the Paramounts have more photon torpedoes. Unless the authors can talk the conglomerate into granting a license in return for a risible royalty, Garbus said, they'll probably be vaporized.

"It's extortion, it's brutal, it's threatening a little peanut with having the sky fall in on them," he said. "And it does make it tough to find investors - you have to tell them your costs are not going to be just lights and theater rent, but a lawyer to answer this potential suit.

"But Slotnick's doing what every other lawyer would do," Garbus added. "This is what policing a copyright is about."

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