Steve Martin’s plays – Picasso at the Lapin Agile and, with Edie Brickell, the musical Bright Star – don’t deep dive into character or message. (Bright Star appeared to try.) His work will never be compared to Neil Simon who has natural facility for making comedy and pathos go hand in hand. Martin’s original screenplays fare better on this front- remember Roxanne?
Meteor Shower is a diverting piece about the vulnerability of marriage. The clever, timely, gimlet-eyed satire evokes broad smiles and moderate laughs. Its author embraces ba-dump-dump vaudeville humor as much as social comment. Being analytical, he underpins the plot with a psychological device of which we’re mercifully unaware till nearly the end.
It’s August 1993 in Ojai, California. The Perseid Meteor Shower is about to blaze across the sky like cannon fire. Corky (Amy Schumer, audience applause) in a perky Debbie Reynolds ponytail and her sweet husband Norm (Jeremy Shamos) are preparing to entertain sexpot Laura (Laura Benanti) and grandstanding husband Gerald (Keegan-Michael Key- audience applause) for the first time. Only Norm has briefly met the pair.
When amiable chat veers to conceivably hurt feelings, Corky and Norm break action to hold hands, look into each other’s eyes and intone psychobabble learned in therapy. “I really appreciate your attitude on this…I respect what you’re saying…” Everything is upfront with these two. The methodology works for them.
Laura and Gerald, on the other hand, are not what they seem. We glean early on that the couple’s recreation is upending their hosts’ marriage – sexually and sentimentally, apparently for sheer entertainment. They withhold basic information, insult with incisive abandon, and set out to seduce Corky and Norm.
Like many plays in current vogue, this one juggles chronology. Scenes are played out of order, so we often observe what happened and then what preceded. An alternative ending may or may not be true. Parts seem more important than the whole.
Honesty is as virulent as falsehood. Martin works in cannibalism, kleptomania, hard drug use, ignominious near-death, very funny seduction, vulgarity, and a couple of memorable, loosey goosey solo dances. Don’t even ask me about the eggplants. (I don’t have a clue.) You’ll have a good time but may be hungry again after an hour.
Amy Schumer plays a character with which she’s highly familiar, breaking out of the generic, through no fault of her own, only in the second part. Her timing is impeccable.
Laura Benanti effectively showcases both more unabashed allure and wacky physicality that we’ve seen from the actress.
Keegan-Michael Key aptly sucks the air out of the room with over the top cockiness that will keep your brows in constant parachute position. His determined focus just barely keeps Gerald from becoming a sitcom character, but he’s funny.
Jeremy Shamos is darling. The actor inhabits everyman innocence as skillfully as he navigates deadpan, heat-seeking-missile attack. At one point he breaks up another cast member with audacious silliness. A pleasure to watch.
Director Jerry Zaks creates infectious fun with this one. Recent commissions haven’t offered nearly this kind of opportunity for off the wall visuals and spot-on timing. Bravo.
Natasha Katz’s Lighting Design conjures marvelous meteors and explosions.
Costumes by Ann Roth are wonderfully specific to character.
Beowulf Boritt’s modrin Set Design moves fluidly between living room and patio.
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Keegan-Michael Key, Jeremy Stamos, Amy Schumer, Laura Benanti
Meteor Shower by Steve Martin
Directed by Jerry Zaks
222 West 45th Street
Through January 21, 2018
Escondido, California: Queen Califia is generally conceded to be the creation of Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo in his novel Las Sergas de Esplandian penned around 1500. In the novel, Califia – assumed to come from the Spanish “Califa” (Khalifa in Arabic or Caliph in English) – was the leader of a tribe of black Amazonians inhabiting the mythical Island of California. Califia raised an army of women and trained griffins and sailed off to assist in the defense of Constantinople.
Niki de Saint Phalle (sculptor, painter, film maker) was born in 1930 in Neuilly-sur-Seine. The family soon moved to the U.S. where de Saint Phalle later attended New York’s Brearley School – from which she was expelled, in one version of the tale, after indulging her penchant for bright colors by painting all of the fig leaves on the school’s statuary red.
She subsequently attended Maryland’s Oldfields School, graduating at 17 years of age. At 18 she became a fashion model appearing on the cover of, among others, Life Magazine and Vogue; and she married – for the first time. She later lived in Majorca and became familiar with the work of Gaudi whose influence on her later work is apparent. She was never formally trained as an artist. Reportedly inspired by the pregnancy of her friend Clarice Price, wife of Larry Rivers, she became fascinated with the position of women in society and heroic women archetypes. Later in her life she was directed, for health reasons, to the dry climate of Southern California.
Now the pieces fall together. About 22 years ago Niki de Saint Phalle was commissioned to create the Magic Garden at Escondido’s Kit Carson Park – taking her inspiration from California’s natural and cultural history.
The garden is roughly circular, about 120’ across. It is enclosed by massive undulating serpents and is entered through a simple, low-walled, black, white and mirrored “maze.” Parents (and many children) can easily see over the walls; no one can get lost in its few turns. The sculptures, including the surrounding serpents, are covered with mosaics of glass and semi-precious stones in brilliant colors. The Garden incorporates indigenous desert foliage in planters on the serpents’ backs and enclosures adjoined to the walls.
Unfortunately repeated vandalism challenged Escondido’s ability to maintain the installation. A few years ago the park was largely restored but now its open hours and days are restricted – so if you intend to visit, check the current schedule. For lack of funding, its permanence is in no way assured – so if you are in the region and have an interest, do not delay a visit.
When I first encountered the Garden, apparently looking stunned, I was approached by Marty Tiedeman. Tiedeman is a docent who has been involved in the regional art scene for many years. (Along with rich information on the Queen Califia installation, Tiedeman related a version of the red fig leaf story that was still more off-color.) While talking with Tiedeman over perhaps a half hour, families came and went – and adults and children alike were fascinated and delighted with the phantasmagoria and brilliant colors.
The central piece of the installation is ostensibly an “eagle” mounted atop by Queen Califia (together, about 20’ tall). At one time the eagle had a tail that extended to the ground and incorporated a stairway – to a platform overlooking the entire Garden. Its belly is tiled in a brilliant blue/purple flecked with stars and cultural symbols, and arches over a large, iridescent, golden egg which, when duly plumbed, was a fountain. Nonetheless, this “eagle” stands on five stout legs which, when juxtaposed with the original Califia story, has me convinced that this creature is a griffin – perhaps earlier named an eagle only in deference to the now-absent tail.
Other statues are in the forms of totem poles bedecked with spiders, snakes, birds, wings, beaks, and faces in various forms that seem universally to evoke laughter and delight. It is difficult to suppress a smile at the inventiveness and playfulness of the pieces here, and at the joy they engender in the children who clamber on its pieces.
Photos by Fred R. Cohen. Go to his website.
Niki de Saunt Phalle’s Queen Califia’s Magical Circle
Located in the Iris Sankey Arboretum
Kit Carson Park
3333 Bear Valley Parkway
Escondido, CA 92025