“I don’t know what’s going on but I’ll just go along with it,” a character says in Steve Martin’s “Meteor Shower,” opening at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater following a summer co-production at San Diego’s Old Globe. That’s good advice for audiences, too. Figuring out this cosmic comedy from the master of the American absurd can result, as it does for one of the characters in the piece, in “brain explosions.” So sure, there are some rethinks and rewinds along the way in this brisk evening of couples therapy, especially in the post-post-modern second act. But this loopy satire of marriage, sex and the inner id still provides lots of laughs — and another likely staple for theaters that found success with Martin’s two earlier plays.
Director Gordon Edelstein, whose Long Wharf production of Martin’s “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” was a delight a few seasons back, again empowers a terrific cast that embraces Martin’s wild, crazy and yet oh-so-familiar universe. Just watch out for those careening meteorites. They can change everything.
The comedy begins by playfully making gentle sport of Norm (Patrick Breen) and Corky (Arden Myrin), a couple so aware of their own and each other’s sensitivities that they perform a silly, soothing ritual every time their feelings are slightly bruised. That might settle surface tensions, but deep down inside there are other selves eager to break free.
They do in the form of Gerald (Josh Stamberg) and Laura (Sophina Brown), an intense couple Norm has invited over to watch a meteor shower under clear skies from their upscale Ojai, Calif. home in 1993, stylishly designed by Michael Yeargan.
The hyper-alpha Gerald and the slinky Laura are guests that both trouble and titillate Corky and Norm, who perhaps see something in themselves in them — a heightened version of their repressed selves. As the more-willing-to-change Corky says, “If you don’t deal with your self-conscious, it will deal with you.”
It does, in a major way, when the guests take command of their hosts. Think of “Who’s Afraid if Virginia Woolf?” if Nick and Honey turned the tables on George and Martha.
Things get even stranger when worlds collide. The second act deals with a narrative leap that is as fantastic as it is funny, yet ends satisfyingly with a hug-with-a-twist.
Still, there are a few instances that don’t quite jive with Martin’s jam-packed big-bang theories. (The cannibalism angle early on certainly provokes laughs, but makes more sense in the second act lunacy.)
But even amid the head-scratching, it’s a pleasure watching how Martin probes the fault line of marriage, social dynamics and cultural swings. (“Crying is so manly — currently,” says the ever-aware Gerard.) And it takes an ear for the absurd to make hay out of the phrase “car shampoo caddy” on multiple go-rounds or to find linguistic fun in “Is that a non sequitur or just a sequitur?”
The show could have easily veered off the tracks without the deft quartet of performers that stay steady in Martin’s outer-limit orbit. Stamberg (the only cast member from the Old Globe run) nails the machismo posturing; Brown is as dry and delicious as a top-shelf martini and Breen as the go-along everyman has a deadpan that goes beyond words. But it’s Myrin’s Corky who best captures the madness, as she comes to terms with her inner and outer selves and the comic cosmic conjunction of these two very different worlds.