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
Attesting to its timeless appeal, the 1936 Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklós László had been made into two Hollywood films – The Shop Around the Corner and The Good Old Summertime – before this 1963 musical saw the light. Nor did that end reinterpretation, as the next generation grinned through You’ve Got Mail.
The Joe Masterhoff/Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick version is a hand-painted valentine, a shaken snow globe, a waltz. As written, the piece has universal appeal. Its book is sympathetic and unfussy, music and lyrics original and adroit. Once again numbers like “Sounds While Selling” in which we hear pieces of conversation from three customers with three salespeople:
1st WOMAN: I would like to see a…/KODALY:…face like yours…/2nd WOMAN: …cracked…/SIPOS:…but we carry…/1st WOMAN:Do you have a cream for…/2nd WOMAN:…very red…and “Vanilla Ice Cream,” which swings back and forth from the heroine’s astonishment at suddenly finding her nemesis captivating and writing to her lonely hearts “pen pal,” make me marvel the authors’ accomplishment. Not to mention resonant ballads and clever comedic numbers.
Zachary Levi and Michael McGrath
The show has warmth, humor, love, distinctive characters, misunderstanding, adultery, Christmas, and a happy ending, several really. What more could one want? It’s sentimental but not saccharine. I’m a longtime fan.
Here, as in the original, our story unfolds at Maraczek’s Parfumerie in Budapest, Hungary. Set Designer David Rockwell imagines the establishment as a charming, deftly detailed dolls’ house. The set morphs beautiflly. Mr. Maraczek (Byron Jennings) runs a cheerfully tight ship. The shop is managed by 30-something everyman Georg Nowack (Zachary Levi) and staffed by timid, Ladislav Sipos (Michael McGrath), womanizer Steven Kodaly (Gavin Creel), single-too-long Ilona Ritter (Jane Krakowski), and delivery boy Arpad Laslo (Nicholas Barasch). Kodaly and Ritter are having a clandestine affair about which everyone is aware.
Into this happy family comes Amalia Balash (Laura Benanti) desperate for a job. Though refused a position, the young woman whips off her hat and sells an item about which the proprietor is enthusiastic, but which Nowack considers a mistake. She’s hired. Balash and Nowack are now at loggerheads, a self perpetuating situation.
Having seen at least one of this story’s iterations, you must know that the eventual couple are unknowingly writing one another letters through a lonely hearts club. Both are completely smitten. An eventual attempt to meet evokes an usually touching and comic scenario during which he finds out the identity of his inamorata. Now what? Meanwhile, Kodaly’s latest betrayal of Ilona upsets the apple cart at work in ways no one anticipated.
Gavin Creek and Jane Krakowski
In order for any production to be successful, the show’s protagonists must seem unconscious of what the audience knows. Actors must play “straight,” innocent, or as my companion this evening succinctly suggested, they must “discover” in front of us. This, unfortunately, largely fails to happen.
Scott Ellis’s Direction broadcasts every emotion. Comedy arrives in a succession akin to – I’m about to be funny, look I’m being funny, wait – did you get that? There are broad ba-dump-dump looks and gestures appropriate to vaudeville. Moments of revelation ignore adjustment, confusion, and surprise in favor of being slick. Anger is glossed over. No one thinks or feels, they just move on.
Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi
Michael McGrath (Sipos) does a nice, subdued, early Nathan Lane-ish job, managing to be gentle and credible. Gavin Creel (Kodaly), the single actor for whom exaggeration is appropriate, is at the same time flamboyant and precise, never going for the yuks.
Jane Krakowski’s Ilona is all sex all the time. A theatrical fanny has not had so much work out since Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot. This is supposed to be a girl possessed, neither naively kittenish, nor a vixen. When her turnabout occurs, we don’t buy it. Krakowski is a fine singer and usually a much better comedienne.
Zachary Levi (Nowack) seems to have had a revelation between Acts I and II. In Act I, he’s self-conscious and preening. In Act II, the actor suddenly becomes boyish and believable. “She Loves Me” is infectiously exuberant.
The biggest disappointment is Laura Benanti. At no time is the role of Amalia Balash plumbed for anything but surface expression. Benanti has an extraordinary voice which here, alas, is too often both loudly unfitting to a moment and unbecoming.
Re Warren Carlyle’s Choreography: Though Kodaly’s magnetism is amusingly showcased during a dance duet that features Krakowski’s skillful split (cue applause), that same move has no more business in “I Resolve”- her swearing off that kind of relationship – than do leg extensions through a highly slit skirt she later, aptly rebuttons. The once wry scenario at Cafe Imperiale (bravo Headwaiter Peter Bartlett), is now something out of a Marx Brothers script.
Tonight’s audience admittedly seems unaware of these issues. If you’ve never seen this delicious piece, perhaps you will be as well.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
She Loves Me
Book-Joe Masterhoff; Music-Jerry Bock; Lyrics- Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Scott Ellis
254 West 54th Street
Through June 12, 2016