Meteor Shower is a very funny play. Keening-like-a-howler-monkey funny. Design-a-new-cry-laughing-emoji funny.
What it is not, however, is a substantial play. At 80 minutes with no intermission, this two-couples-one-weird-evening show is shorter than an episode of Saturday Night Live, with which it shares a familiar sketch comedy sensibility. You can imagine the SNL writers-room pitch for a version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but with four of modern-day America’s most hilariously loathsome people.
In the confident hands of writer and comedy maestro Steve Martin, the premise is polished to sparkling. Martin may be the much-decorated author of films, books, two other plays (Picasso at the Lapin Agile and The Underpants, both of which ran Off-Broadway) as well as a Broadway musical (Bright Star, created with Edie Brickell), but director Jerry Zaks has not lost sight of the fact that the playwright is the also the guy in the three-piece white suit, unfazed by an arrow piercing his head. Meteor Shower is, happily, in this absurdist vein. Here, a perfectly appointed Ojai, California home will be similarly violated, first by eggplants of unknown providence, then by impossible guests, and finally, by meteors.
Our hosts are Corky (Amy Schumer, in her Broadway debut) and Norm (Jeremy Shamos), devotees of a tedious brand of couples therapy that has trained them to stop mid-snark to look into one another’s eyes and affirm their feelings. As they prime themselves with a “pre-wine” (in the calm before Jeopardy! goes off and the final throw pillow is fluffed) the couple seem like the most unbearable one could meet — until their guests, Gerald (Keegan-Michael Key, who like Schumer is a Broadway newcomer) and Laura (Laura Benanti, like Shamos, a stage veteran) arrive to claim that crown.
Gerald is a recognizable strain of Californian who demands that you marvel at him marveling at the universe; his wife is the sort of woman whose refusal of a canapé is an indictment of every carb you’ve consumed since freshman year. “Meteors are coming,” enthuses Gerald. “Strangers from out of the blue. They remind me of me!” Adds Laura: “You should be aware that everything reminds him of him.” Key and Benanti meet the challenge of having to play constructs, not real people. They exist to needle their hosts, a perfectly valid purpose, given Schumer and Shamos’s hysterical reactions.
All four actors enjoy a share of the silliness, which they put over ably in black-out scenes that tell and retell variations of the evening’s events. But the night belongs to Schumer, her timing, her mugging, her deftness with some extremely ridiculous gags. (I should apologize here to real sufferers of Exploding Head Syndrome for initially believing Martin had invented it as a bit of stage business for his leading lady.) It is a Broadway debut that, were she not already a film and TV star, would belong in the career-launching category. Her delivery makes the play, which Martin began writing some years ago and set in 1993, feel of this moment. Asked, “Aren’t you glad you’re not a man?” Schumer’s Corky replies, “Oh, so relieved. I couldn’t stand all the advantages.”
That is as close as the show comes to grazing topicality. The comedy is not in service of a message any deeper than that marriage is challenging and strange. The resolution, in which Corky explains the meaning of their bizarro guests, comes as swiftly as a cut to commercial. But even as it hurdles towards its abrupt, if sentimental, ending, Meteor Shower burns brightly with laughs. B+