I could tell you that Amy Schumer is sensational in Meteor Shower and let the box office do the rest, but that would be a disservice to Steve Martin, whose comedy it is, and to the three actors joining Schumer in this 80-minute killer sketch. And to director Jerry Zaks, who now will have three hits running on Broadway simultaneously.
Nevertheless, Schumer, in her Broadway debut, really is sensational. Moreover, she’s not playing Amy Schumer, which is probably different from what we expected. After all, since the 2013 premiere of Inside Amy Schumer, and the box office smash Trainwreck two years later, she’s been a comedy brand. Leave thoughts of that behind. She’s playing Corky. Sometimes Corky’s head explodes, but only on the inside. Sometimes she wields a martini shaker like a salsa singer on hallucinogens.
Martin’s new play is set in 1993, in Ojai, California – a time and place overripe for farcical evisceration. We’re in the living room where Corky and her mushy husband Norm (Jeremy Shamos, shattering in an episode of Showtime’s new SMILF) are awaiting the arrival of new friends Gerald (Keenan-Michael Key, just done playing Horatio in Hamlet down at the Public) and Laura (Laura Benanti, Supergirl, She Loves Me), who have converted a chance meeting into an invitation to come watch the natural fireworks promised in the title.
With its oversize windows looking out at the mountains, Corky and Norm’s place is by-the-numbers chic, expensive and taste-free in Beowulf Boritt’s exacting evocation. “Look at this place…so charming,” Laura, who claims to have been an editor in the L.A. office of Vogue, sniffs to her husband. “This is exactly what we need. A little nothing out in the country.”
For his part, Gerald has made his entrance with ear-splitting bombast, endowing the hosts with his gift bottle of wine: “Small production winery in Santa Barbara. Eighty dollars.” He can – and does – hold forth on many subjects, from the night sky to “bug flux”: “You have the mountain bugs that love the mountains, and the coastal bugs that love the coast. But where they meet and mingle is called the bug flux, and it’s chaos!”
What ensues is one of the funniest, and wildest, games of social and sexual one-upsmanship since, well maybe since John Avildsen’s 1981 film Neighbors, which starred Martin’s former Saturday Night Live pals John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Martin has a strong stylistic kinship with the late genius Thomas Berger, author of the novel on which that film was based. Both are specialists in the exacting style of genre parody (Berger also wrote Little Big Man and Meeting Evil).
But Meteor Shower sparks with the same anarchic energy as Martin’s reckless comedy Picasso at the Lapin Agile. As such, it’s a welcome follow-up to Bright Star, his lovely but earnest musical collaboration with Edie Brickell, which had an abbreviated Broadway run in the spring of 2016. There’s a delicious element of slapstick dread in the roundelay that unfolds when Corky, Norm, Laura and Gerald pair off in every possible configuration. It’s heightened by the intermittent sky works provided by lighting designer Natasha Katz with Alex Fogel.
Martin has an affection for the hoariest of jokes, usually delivered with a sly twist:
Corky, to Laura: You had a threesome?
Laura: Gerald, me, and a stewardess.
Corky: What did you think?
Laura: I thought lose the Gerald.
Laura: So then I did it with two other women.
Corky: Wow. How did that go?
Laura: We tried, but we just ended up talking.
Every element in Zaks’ production is working at full throttle, especially Ann Roth’s character-enhancing clothes. Laura appears to have dressed for the occasion in a form-fitting satin Alberta Ferretti slip dress; Key in iridescent Zegna, while Corky and Norm seemed to have ordered from the Men’s Wearhouse and Talbots catalogs. Shamos, by the way, is priceless as the zhlubbish Norm, who is as forgiving of his intermittently vacant wife as he is tolerant of the hyper-aggressive visitors.
There’s maybe the funniest riposte ever made on the subject of Robert Mapplethorpe, which I wouldn’t dare kill here. Suffice it to say that Schumer exhibits flawless comic timing in this quartet of master practitioners under the assured direction of Zaks, a funny businessman nonpareil. You may find yourself bewildered in the first few minutes of Meteor Shower, but there’s method in Martin’s madness, which is to set you off-kilter while drawing you into this brief, satisfying lunacy. Resistance is futile.