Wednesday, December 13, 2017

130 (2017-2018): Review: METEOR SHOWER (seen December 12, 2017)

“Still Wild and Crazy, After All These Years”

Steve Martin, America’s favorite wild and crazy guy, may be 72 but his new Broadway farce, Meteor Shower, shows he’s as wild and crazy as ever. Just not as funny, or at least not as served up by the hyperbolic histrionics of director Jerry Zak’s spacey, 80-minute production at the Booth.
Amy Schumer. Photo: Matthew Murply.
Four highly charged comic actors—the adorable Amy Schumer (Trainwreck), in her Broadway debut; the smooth Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele”), making his as well; the stunning, Tony-winning Laura Benanti (She Loves Me); and the versatile Jeremy Shamos (Clybourne Park)—carry on with such exaggerated, cartoonish abandon that 15 minutes is all it takes before your willing disbelief collapses, like a bridge in an earthquake.

It’s another natural phenomenon, however, a meteor shower, that brings the play’s characters together at the Ojai, California, home of Corky (Schumer) and Norm (Shamos), on the 1993 night when such an astronomical event actually occurred. Corky and Norm, anxious to show off their upscale new digs, have invited another couple over, Laura (Benanti), allegedly a former Vogue editor, and Gerald (Key), Norm’s coworker, to watch the night sky spectacle.

Corky and Norm, as first seen, are a sweetly quirky pair who have attempted to resolve whatever friction they have by self-help courses, tapes, and books. They’re so ultrasensitive to anything that one of them might perceive as a slight that whenever their radar detects a misstep they engage in a cutesy making up ritual. Also, Corky suffers from “exploding head syndrome,” which, when it acts up, causes enough pain to allow Schumer ample mugging opportunities. And, oh yes, her résumé includes having eaten a friend.
Keegan-Michael Key, Jeremy Shamos, Amy Schumer, Laura Benanti. Photo: Matthew Murphy. 
Laura and Gerald are even more bizarre. He’s a flashy, bragging, know-it-all who speaks in perfectly enunciated, stentorian tones that sound like F. Murray Abraham on steroids. She, dressed in a form-fitting silk dress, is a drop-dead gorgeous vamp fully conscious of her obvious lusciousness.  

No good reason is provided for why Norm would invite a blatant creep like Norm over. And Laura and Gerald have ulterior motives, fuzzily explained, in being there. Regardless, as meteors occasionally flash across the background (thanks to lighting designer Natasha Katz), the sharply contrasting couples spend the evening in a series of ludicrously absurdist encounters, made even odder by their being repeated in different variations, with a worm-turns twist ending the proceedings.

With an anything-for-a-laugh incentive, Martin throws in jokes about penises, vaginas, and breasts, engages his characters in hetero and homo pairings, introduces drugs of both the injectable and snorted kind, keeps the drinks flowing, and allows a couple of meteor strikes to cause surrealistically ridiculous disasters that, based on your tolerance, you’ll find either annoyingly inane or (hint, hint) hilariously gut-busting. Some gleaming smiles arise from Corky and Norm’s handling of their relationship issues, like which partner in a hug should break off first—a device that offers a quality final curtain—but such moments are insufficient to rescue all those that expire before blazing across the cosmic skyscape.

Norm and Corky’s home, smartly designed by Beowulf Boritt, makes considerable use of a revolve to show both interior and exterior; the fashionable clothes are excellently realized by Ann Roth; and Fitz Patton provides an amusing sound design, which opens with Beethoven’s Fifth as we watch the meteor light show. Thus, in all design respects, the production displays a patina of luminous Broadway polish.

That polish, though, is dimmed not only by the innocuous script but by the exaggerated acting—Key being wrongdoer number one—which operates on the principle that more is more, removing even the barest semblance of believability. Of course, many theatergoers laugh loudly at these antics, which only encourages the actors to milk their shtick to the very last drop.

But it’s hard to escape the feeling that Meteor Shower would be more amusing if the silliness were performed straight, heightened just enough for comic effect, and not as if it were one of those old wild-and-crazy-guy sketches (which were just as broad but funnier than this play). Schumer and Benanti occasionally manage to do this, scoring some quality comic goals; in the end, though, even these marvelous talents get sucked up into the black hole of comedic overkill.

Despite its constellation of stars, Meteor Shower is light years away from further brightening the Great White Way.


Booth Theatre
261 W. 47th St., NYC
Through January 21