“Sometimes you just have to relax your standards,” a character says partway through Steve Martin’s anything-for-a-laugh comedy “Meteor Shower,” and you can’t help but wonder if Martin is somehow talking directly to you. Because odds are you’ve already been guffawing and gasping at the ridiculous goings-on happening on the stage of the Booth Theatre, even as a voice inside your head is saying that you should know better.
In fact, you also know that your high school drama teacher would probably give this 80-minute play -- which is little more than an extended Saturday Night Live” sketch that would air after “Weekend Update” -- an “F” for dramaturgy, and that the only reasons it has even made it to Broadway are Martin’s fame and the star power of leading lady Amy Schumer. Whether or that not that ultimately matters is a decision only you can make.
Martin’s scenario seems realistic enough: Corky (Schumer) and her husband Norm (Jeremy Shamos) are entertaining a couple they really don’t know: Norm’s co-worker Gerald (Keegan-Michael Key) and his wife Laura (Laura Benanti), who has reputedly been a former editor for “Vogue” in Los Angeles. But even with two different sets of explanations for what turns out to be two different scenarios of the evening’s events, no one on stage ever acts like a real human being (even in 1993 California!). What they say and what they do always feels simply in service of Martin’s seemingly unquenchable desire to make the audience roar back their heads or cover their mouths.
Fortunately, director Jerry Zaks has cannily cast four performers who are able to accomplish this task. While many of us have a pre-conceived notion of Schumer as little more than a filthy-mouthed stand-up-comic, she proves her stage chops as the straight-laced, ultra-therapized California housewife who unwittingly becomes the hostess of this meteor shower-viewing party from hell. Still, it’s only when Zaks really takes advantage of Schumer’s singular delivery of an insult, her superb gift for physical comedy, and her go-for-broke spirit that her casting feels more like an organic choice and less like a commercial compromise.
As Norm, who we immediately realize has wisely decided to live by the “happy wife, happy life,” mantra, the always invaluable Shamos proves once again (as he did in the recent revival of “Noises Off”) that he can be a truly gifted comedian, while giving his character enough heart and soul to become the most sympathetic person on stage.
As their frenemies, Key, looking ultra-stylish in Ann Roth’s duds, isn’t asked to do much more than preen and pontificate, both of which he manages to splendid effect. As for Benanti, she is the play’s sharpest weapon as the sometimes sweet, mostly bitchy Laura. Her bombshell-like beauty conceals this versatile performer’s razor-sharp verbal timing, physical abandon, along with the character’s deeply-hidden vulnerability.
Still, like the meteor shower we witness (courtesy of lighting designer Natasha Katz), Martin’s play is always in danger of crashing to the ground. Be warned.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Amy Schumer, Keegan-Michael Key, Laura Benanti, Jeremy Shamos
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 11/1/2017
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New York, NY 10036