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Meteor Shower

Thus Fate knocks at the door — Ludwig Van Beethoven own sum-up of what the famous 5th Symphony that punctuates Steve Martin's Meteor Shower.
meteor shower
From left: Keegan-Michael Key, Jeremy Shamos, Amy Schumer and Laura Benanti (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
Beethoven worked on his famous and probably most popular Symphony #5 for years. When it premiered in 1808 it lasted some four hours. Meteor Shower, for which Beethoven's masterpiece serves as musical punctuation, clocks in at just 80 minutes. Fortunately, so, since the Beethoven background music is the best thing about it.

Actually, this metaphysical marital comedy has also been a long in progress work for Stand-up-comic/blue grass musician/playwright Steve Martin. He began working on it even before his wildly popular, much produced first play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile. During the years of his on and off again attempt to fuse the metaphysical and real world into a comic Edward Albee-ish take on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, he was a star attraction on Saturday Night Live and co-wrote the book, music and lyrics for the rather charming though short-lived musical Bright Star Bright Star.

Now Meteor Shower has finally and, alas, for worse rather than better, emerged from Martin's trunk of unborn ideas. What we have is a star powered riff that besides echoing Albee's famous party from hell also reminds us of other playwrights with a penchant for metaphysical musingss and plots with several different starts and outcomes (notably Nick Payne's (Constellations).

Mr. Martin certainly didn't anticipate that his Ojay, California set play's first officially open week on Broadway would coincide with real events in that mountain framed Southern California town. If the time frame were now instead of a summer night in 1993, Meteor Shower's Ojay residents, would be more worried about escaping to safety from the wildfires devastating their mountain flanked town. But no worries for Corky, Norm, Laura and Gerald. They're back in 1993 Ojai when it was at the height of its being a hotbed of New Age enthusiasm for dealing with personal issues.

Instead of one of December's worst wind-driven wild fires, the play unfolds during a 1993 summer night on the Booth stage. Corky (Amy Schumer, making her Broadway debut) and Norm (Jeremy Shamos, a veteran of memorable ordinary guy roles on and off-Broadway) are anxious only about hosting Laura (Laura Benanti who's been making a name for herself as a comedienne as well as gorgeous singer) and Gerald (Keegan Michael Key, like Schumer best known as a TV comic, in his case as co-star of the TV sitcom Key and Peele), a couple they've never socialized with before, though the men do play tennis together.

The get-together is prompted by Gerald's having expressed keen interest in witnessing the Perseid Meteor Shower that's scheduled to light up the sky over Corky and Norm's conveniently roof-less house. As it turns out Gerald's interest in that meteor is not only metaphoric but he and his glamorous but equally odd wife are obsessively and inexplicably fixated on mischief making as Corky and Norm are to use their New Age techniques live with their hang-ups and troublesome marital undercurrents.

One of those expected astronomical phenomenons does land on our hosts' patio with quite a bang. There are also tons of people at the Booth getting a really big bang from the bucks spent on tickets; their enthusiasm no doubt fueled by their enthusiasms for Amy Schumer's TV stand-up routines and long love affair with Steve Martin's off-kilter humor.

Schumer backs her star wattage with a nicely relaxed performance, and the other three actors do everything they can with their two-dimensional roles (Shamos is best). Beowulf Boritt's turntable set helps the various gotcha games by both guests and hosts play out; Ann Roth's costumes — especially Benanti's slinky, satiny halter dress— are spot on, as is Natasha Katz's lighting.

But with all due respect to the actors, the script's abundance of jokes and clever twists and turns, even with Beethoven several times accompanied by Ms. Benanti's sexy dancing, can't compensate for the lack of real sizzle and sophistication — and, most importantly, a meaningful, coherent theme. The lack of all of this is all too evident given veteran director Jerry Zaks' wonderful revival of Hello, Dolly! playing just down the alley from the Booth Theater.

One can only hope that Ojai and its citizens will recover from the fires that have been ravaging them as I write this and that "a kinder fate will knock at their door."

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Meteor Shower by Steve Martin
Directed by Jerry Zaks
CAST: Amy Schumer (Corky), Jeremy Shamos (Norm), Keegan Michael Key (Gerald), Laura Benanti (Laura)
Set Design: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Natasha Katz
Sound Design: Sound Design
Production Stage Manager: J. Jason Daunter Run time: 85 minutes, no intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on December 7th

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