Steve Martin is undeniably a comedic genius. But his play “Meteor Shower” is as scattered as a standup comedy routine. Truly bizarre absurdity mixes with social satire and some attempts at psychological revelations. “Meteor Shower” has some very funny moments, to be sure, but feels like what it is: The work of a comedian dabbling in writing plays rather than the work of someone truly devoted to that craft.
The one-act play, which debuted in San Diego in 2016 and ran on Broadway on 2017, is now being presented by the Centenary Stage Company in Hackettstown. It’s a flawless production of a significantly flawed work, with its positives starting with scenic designer Matthew Imhoff’s elegant, shiftable set, which lives up to one character’s pronouncement that this home could be in Architectural Digest; and lighting designer’s Cameron Filepas’ effective evocation of the meteor shower the characters watch together. The play’s four actors, under the direction of Carl Wallnau, do their best to breathe life into Martin’s cartoonish characters, but there is only so far they can go.
Corky (Suzanne Kimball) and Norm (Christopher John Young) live in the Architectural Digest-ready house, their drab suburban lives punctuated by cringe-inducingly sincere self-help encounter sessions with each other.
“I’m asking you to be more careful with my feelings,” Corky tells Norm after he makes a mild joke about her.
“I’m sorry that I hurt you in this way,” Norm replies. “I hope that you understand that I did not intend to hurt you, and I will try to use that particular joking manner less often.”
Corky also tells Norm: “If you don’t deal with your subconscious, it will deal with you.” Soon, though, they encounter more than they can possibly deal with via the arrival of another couple, Laura (Emaline Williams) and Gerald (Scott McGowan), who have come to have dinner and look at an anticipated meteor shower in the clear Ojai, Calif. sky.
While Corky and Norm seem a bit repressed, Laura and Gerald, whom they did not know well previously, are utterly unfiltered. They say whatever pops into their minds and act out their every impulse, whether that impulse is hurtful, or sexual, or self-aggrandizing, or any number of things it shouldn’t be at a polite dinner party.
“Small production company in Santa Barbara, $80,” Geralds says upon entering the home and handing a mortified Corky a bottle of wine.
Martin could have stopped there and built an entire play upon the premise of two such hugely different couples interacting, and pushing each other’s buttons. But he makes all hell break loose in other ways, too, repeating scenes with significant variations, having characters change their personalities, bringing up an incident of cannibalism in one of the character’s pasts, and adding a reality-defying twist having to do with one of the actual meteors.
He piles absurdity upon absurdity, at an almost frenzied pace. And though he attempts, in the final scene, to pull everything together into something that has some actual human meaning, it’s too little, too late.
Centenary Stage Company presents “Meteor Shower” at the Sitnik Theatre at the Lackland Performing Arts Center in Hackettstown through March 6. Visit centenarystageco.com.
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