Steve Martin’s lump of sight gags, one-liners and situation comedy streaks toward Broadway. A couple v couple amusement first written in the 1990s, it pits a dull, normal pair (Amy Schumer and Jeremy Shamos) against a more devious duo (Keegan-Michael Key and Laura Benanti). Norm and Corky, owners of a tony pad in Ojai, have invited Gerald and Laura over for wine, crab dip and astronomy. Sparks fly. So do asteroids. So do some of the jokes.
Corky and Norm are eager to make a good impression. Laura and Gerald are not. “That dress is so nice,” Corky says. “Oh, thank you,” Laura replies with a pointed look at her hostess. “I just get tired of looking awful. Don’t you?” (Actually, the dress, a shiny gold number, is not so nice, and the pre-show projection is blurry, suggesting a production that has given up before it gets going.)
After a few more hostilities, the play goes back in time and autocorrects – à la Nick Payne’s Constellations or David Ives’s All in the Timing. The scenario repeats again, growing increasingly fraught and increasingly weird. When Laura teases that she used to be obese, Norm blurts out: “Corky is a cannibal.” There’s also some sudden death, some sudden sex and a pervasive Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Stepford vibe.
Then a late-in-the-game revelation upends the given circumstances and endorses good-old analytical psychology. Is Steve Martin afraid of Virginia Woolf? Unclear. But it’s good to know that Carl Jung holds few terrors for him. Acknowledging that it’s a loser’s game to question the internal logic of an absurdist comedy, it seems unfair to change the rules mid-grapple. Still, if the final section, in which the hosts turn the chaises and end tables on the guests, is a metaphysical cheat, it is also is very funny. (At a preview performance, the actors even cracked themselves up.) Jerry Zaks, the director, angles for yuks throughout, cold-shouldering sense or consistency.
Shamos, a Broadway reliable, is pleasant throughout, and Benanti, a musical comedy star, has some fun with the femme fatale shtick. As for the starrier performers, Key, who sounds like he has swallowed a standup bass, comes across as less inventive than in his own comedy or the recent Hamlet, while Schumer, in a cutie-pie ponytail and bow-beset sweater, only shines once Corky is out for blood –or given Corky’s backstory, flesh.
Sure, there are laughs to be had, some of them wonderfully raunchy, but there’s an incessant sense that while Meteor Shower may occasionally be a hoot, it is never really a play. It’s a comedy sketch that resets when it doesn’t know how to end, flaming out long before it hits the Booth stage.