Steve Martin has a flair for surreal comedy — a style that suits “Meteor Shower,” his new play about the existential mischief caused one night in 1993 when a deluge of meteors rains down on the boutique city of Ojai, Calif. Before this singular night is through, two married couples will have gotten under each other’s skins, so to speak, and undergone major character transformations.
Corky (Amy Schumer, in an exuberant performance) and Norm (Jeremy Shamos, Mr. Reliable) are young marrieds who have been working on their relationship with alarming dedication. Should either of them speak out of line, they have a litany of face-to-face rituals for restoring marital harmony. “I love you and I know you love me,” says Corky, going into robotic “talking mode.” “I understand you probably didn’t know you hurt me. I’m asking you to be more careful with my feelings.”
Like the grownups they fancy themselves to be, Corky and Norm have decorated their home in Beowulf Boritt’s rendering of Mannered Modern and are dressed to match in costumer Ann Roth’s notion of ’90s chic. Now they have taken the plunge and invited another, more sophisticated couple over for dinner. Gerald (Keegan-Michael Key, of “Key & Peele,” a riveting presence) and Laura (the divine Laura Benanti) arrive at their door with trouble in mind and mischief in their hearts. “I’m feeling frisky,” says Laura. “So, how should we do this?” Gerald considers. “Let’s go for total collapse.”
Martin’s comic thesis is that Corky and Norm are so repressed, it takes a cosmic event on the scale of a meteor shower to unleash their inner selves. “When I repress something, I push it way down and kick dirt over it,” Norm tells anyone who needs things spelled out. “If you don’t deal with your subconscious, it will deal with you,” Corky warns those same slow learners.
In the attractive physical forms of Benanti and Key, the couple’s inner selves emerge with the advent of the meteor showers and prove to be emotionally rapacious. In silken moves orchestrated by director Jerry Zaks, these alluring interlopers proceed to seduce the other couple, leaving them reeling from the experience. If meteors did, indeed, once bring life to our planet, then this meteor event – dramatically rendered in a starry night sky by Natasha Katz’s lighting design — is sure to liven up Corky and Norm.
Corky is first to lose her inhibitions and allow herself to be ravaged. “It’s so easy and stress-free and relaxing, just to be completely insane,” she exclaims, in Schumer’s buoyant portrayal of sexual abandon. Presumably under the influence of the meteor showers, Corky even allows herself to fantasize a life without Norm. (“I can date! I can re-decorate!”) For their part, Benanti and Key revel in the marital mischief that Laura and Gerald unleash.
But clever lines and canny body language only get you so far, and there comes a point when this lightweight comedy just gives up and implodes on itself from lack of thought and direction. Clocking in at little more than an hour, “Meteor Shower” could use a few more scenes to get its head together.