REVIEW: “Meteor Shower” is not earth shattering, but it is funny

REVIEW: “Meteor Shower” is not earth shattering, but it is funny

A hallmark of great comedians is the unmistakable sound of their comedy—the pacing, phrasing, rhythm, and music of it all.  Each possesses a specific identity and style, but his or her “voice” is something far more stealth and intuitive, such that the comedian need not personally deliver a joke in order to divine its provenance. 

This is the case with iconic stand-up comedian, actor, author, playwright, screenwriter, composer, and banjoist Steve Martin.  And his new play, “Meteor Shower”, which opened this evening at the Booth Theatre, provides an excellent illustration. 

The show is Mr. Martin’s third full-length straight play, and the first to be performed on Broadway (his superb, bluegrass musical, “Bright Star”, enjoyed an all-too-brief run in 2016).  While he does not appear on stage in “Meteor Shower”, a cast of four terrific comedic actors—Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key, Laura Benanti, and Jeremy Shamos—are his proxies.  None imitates him outright, but they don’t have to—Mr. Martin’s unmistakable voice leaps from their mouths and imbues their movement.

Set in Ojai, California in 1993, Ms. Schumer and Mr. Shamos play married couple Corky and Norm (those names!) who have been earnestly working on their relationship with the aid of new age instructional tapes and books.  When their kooky and cunning friends Laura and Gerald, played by Ms. Benanti and Mr. Key, show up for an evening of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the occasion of a meteor shower, the collisions become cosmic.

Under the direction of Jerry Zaks (“Hello, Dolly!”, “A Bronx Tale”), Broadway’s reigning king of physical comedy, “Meteor Shower” is a swift, 75-minute absurdist romp as only Steve Martin can deliver.  An upside down “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?”  It is his crispest and funniest stage play to date, but it lacks the depth of his earlier pieces, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” (1993) and “The Underpants” (2002), both of which grappled with larger ideas like the creative process and gender politics.

There isn’t much heft to “Meteor Shower”.  Mr. Martin's commentary on marriage feels too abstract and muddled, and the play unfolds as a series of short scenes—sketches really, ala "Saturday Night Live"—increasingly playing with our perception and understanding of time and character, but to an unclear end.  A “this is what the play’s about” one liner near the play's close (no spoilers here!) covers for an idea that would be far more interesting for the audience to discover on its own, and its blunt execution by Mr. Martin and Mr. Zaks is disappointing.

Notwithstanding, all four actors give fine performances that are hilarious.  Ms. Schumer and Ms. Benanti made each other break and laugh several times at the performance I attended, and the audience was right there with them.  These performances and this play harken back to an earlier era of light, familial comedy dominated by Neil Simon, which seems to have fallen out of fashion.  In that sense, “Meteor Shower” is a breath of nostalgic fresh air.

Following a world premiere at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre and a production at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, “Meteor Shower” opens on Broadway for a limited run with the largest advance in the 104-year history of the Booth Theatre—a whopping $7.5 million bucks.  That’s thanks to the star power of its cast.  There is nothing earth shattering about this play (pun intended); it is a droll evening for sure, but there are far cheaper options for 75 minutes of laughter in New York City.

Bottom Line: “Meteor Shower”, an absurd new comedy, bears the unmistakable voice of its playwright, Steve Martin; Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key, Laura Benanti, and Jeremy Shamos give hilarious performances, but the play lacks the clever and smart depth Mr. Martin usually provides.  The limited run is nearly sold out anyway, so don’t feel bad if you miss this one. 

Meteor Shower
Booth Theatre
222 West 45th Street
New York, NY  10036

Running Time: 90 minutes (officially), 75 minutes (really) (no intermission)
Opening Night: November 29, 2017
Final Performance: January 21, 2018

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