Reverting to his early-career wackiness, Steve Martin enlists four phenomenal performers, including Amy Schumer making her Broadway debut, for a joke-filled, overlong, trickster comedy sketch about marriage that is an uneasy stew of Neil Simon and Edward Albee, but falls short of either.
Long-time married couple Corky (Amy Schumer) and Norm (Jeremy Shamos) have invited couple Gerald (Keegan-Michael Key) and Laura (Laura Benanti) to their home in Ojai, California one night in 1993 to watch a meteor shower.
Corky and Norm are a happy couple who work at their marriage – we see them engage in affirmation rituals, in which they hold hands and say things like
“I’m asking you to be more careful with my feelings,” Corky says. “They are not playthings.”
“They are not playthings,” Norm repeats back to her, to show her that he’s listening.
Gerald and Laura, by contrast, bicker with increasing bluntness before the hosts:
Gerald: Shut your stupid face.
Laura: Eat me.
Gerald: You wish.
Laura: I sure do, cowboy.
Things get out of hand quickly. Gerald shoots up heroin without any of the others noticing. Norm reveals that Corky is a cannibal – stuck in the Himalayas with no food, she ate her friend Kathy. The guilt of her action resulted in her developing “exploding head Syndrome.”
It escalates from there.
Talking about an escalation implies some kind of logical progression. But Meteor Shower subverts anything as unhip as logic or even internal coherence. Several scenes are replayed several times, slightly altered. We learn Laura and Gerald are aiming to destroy Corky and Norm, but then the scene is rewound once again, and Corky and Norm try to undermine Laura and Gerald.
As if (justifiably) worried that the audience has limited tolerance for such pseudo-absurdist unanchored antics, Martin offers a glib explanation for what’s been going on in the final scene. But by then it’s too late. Meteor Shower may be a cloudburst of laugh lines lasting only about 80 minutes, but its non-sequiturs and silliness turn tedious in a remarkably short time.
Still, some sparks do fly — and not just the shooting meteors through the starry night sky, a pleasing part of the slick production put together by director Jerry Zaks, whose other current Broadway directing gigs include the crowd-pleasing musicals Hello, Dolly! and A Bronx Tale.
The four talented comic actors make sure that every joke that can land does land, even when it wouldn’t in other hands: Laura Benanti is such a skilled comic actor that she generates laughs from her very first line – which is simply “no.” Amy Schumer feels born for the stage, a fine partner for Jeremy Shamos, the least known of the quartet, who is infamous as The Bad Actor of Broadway (my explanation here), but is in fact one of its most reliable.
Keegan-Michael Key, half the duo Key and Peel, has done such terrific recent work as an actor, in the Sam Gold directed Hamlet and in a little seen TV series, Friends from College. Here, though, he seems to be the stand-in for early Steve Martin — the wild and crazy, arrow through his head Steve Martin, with an exaggerated, self-satisfied line delivery that was some sort of self-parody that I never understood. I still don’t.
Meteor Shower is on stage at the Booth Theater (222 West 45th Street, east of 8th Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10036) through January 21, 2018.
Tickets and details
Meteor Shower Written by Steve Martin; Directed by Jerry Zaks, sets by Beowulf Boritt, costumes by AnnRoth, lighting by Natasha Katz, sound by Fitz Patton, featuring Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key, Laura Benanti and Jeremy Shamos. Reviewed by Jonathan Mandell.