Review: ‘Meteor Shower’ at the Booth Theatre

This 90-minute sketch by Steve Martin begins as a situation comedy. Until fairly recently there were always several lighting up Broadway; and they were usually written by the likes of Neil Simon, Jean Kerr, or John Van Druten, and–for those of you over fifty–F. Hugh Herbert or the team of Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov. Many of those comedies (staples each season) involved the romantic foibles of young couples in plays like Barefoot in the Park and Mary, Mary, and a decade earlier Kiss and Tell and My Sister Eileen or The Doughgirls.

Keegan Michael Key, Jeremy Shamos, Amy Schumer, and Laura Benanti. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

In the 1930s, during the depression, when actors’ salaries were minimal, the funny plays would often have huge casts: You Can’t Take It With You and Stage Door come to mind, but there were dozens of others that supplied our laughs before they all left the stage and moved into our living rooms where we could watch them on the tube in our bathrobe and slippers. That’s all changed now. With onstage production costs still rising, playwrights have cut characters down to a maximum of four (often only two or three) and acts from three to two, and now mostly one. Their comedies once filled our evenings for two and a half hours.

Nowadays we’re lucky to get 90 minutes of mirth out of them–with no bathroom or any other kind of break to give us time to appreciate them. Meteor Shower, Steve Martin’s very contemporary recent arrival at the Booth Theatre, is a charming example of the eighty-minute soufflés now offered up as “full length plays.”

It begins with Corky and Norm as a long-married couple living in a nicely appointed home in Ojai, California, in 1993. They are aptly named; she is adorable and bright-eyed as played by the refreshing Amy Schumer; Norm is slightly bearded and wrinkled–an average Joe appealingly calm and seemingly together played smoothly by Jeremy Shamos. They’ve been working on their marriage for some 16 years; and, when one unwittingly offends the other, they don’t push the slight offense under the rug. Instead, they hold hands and admit that they understand the hurt they’ve caused and vow not to cause it again. On this night, they are looking forward to meeting Gerald and Laura, whom they’ve invited to dinner for the first time. Norm had occasionally chatted with Gerald at the tennis courts and on impulse invited them both to dinner.

As we watch these four interact with each other, switching partners as they share chores and pre-dinner wine, we find Gerald (a tall and very present Keegan-Michael Key) behaving inappropriately in conjunction with Laura (a modern woman who seems to enjoy the games she and Gerald play with each other). We’re told she is an “ex-editor of the Chicago edition of Vogue,” but that somehow never gets explained and remains questionable. Laura Benanti is very welcome away from her exciting career in musical theater and beautifully underplays Laura as she peels away at the character so that we come to know her slowly and with some surprises. At first, they appeared to be a jolly couple you’d want to know better. Later, when they had turned crude, rude, and arrogant, you realize you’d forgotten that you’d been taught never to judge a book by its cover.

Steve Martin’s method is to avoid any semblance of the linear in structuring his play, and there are breaks in the timeline which expose various ways in which some key scenes are played out in the imaginations of Corky and Norm. Martin displays the same airy and surprising sense of humor he displayed in Picasso at the Lapin Agile and The Underpants, as well as the singular voice he brought to his novel Shopgirl. He’s starred in and written some fine films as well, and I enjoyed much of Meteor Shower, but it’s a clever trifle and easily dismissible. It’s sort of a shrunken version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and I found it more an extended sketch than a full-length play. I would have preferred more of an emotional investment in Corky and Norm because with what little we knew of them I was left hungry still at play’s end. I’d call Meteor Shower an appealing almost.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Meteor Shower plays through January 21, 2018, at the Booth Theatre–222 W 45th Street in New York City, NY. For tickets, call the box office at (212) 239-6200 or online.

Previous articleReview: ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ at the Palace Theatre
Next articleWho’s in Town?: ‘The Piano Guys’ Performing at The National Theatre December 13th through 16th
Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.

1 COMMENT

  1. A couple funny lines and a good sight gag made me laugh. Seff’s background of theater adds interesting aspects that the typical “book report” reviews lack. He is right on the mark about this short play.

Comments are closed.