By David A. Rosenberg
Comedian and tragedian, bluegrass musician and art collector, brainy and goofy -- it’s all Steve Martin. His penchant for opposites, for the clash between funny and serious, reared up in his play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which posited a battle between Picasso (art) and Einstein (intellect). His film Roxanne pitted beauty against soul. Now, in the world premiere of Meteor Shower at Long Wharf (in a co-production with San Diego’s Old Globe where it played earlier this year), Martin creates two couples, doppelgangers for each other, in a puzzling and amusing work that needs a lot of work.
Ostensibly a comedy (I thought the laughing couple in front of me would fall out of their seats), the play is dead serious about infidelity, sex, marriage and the cosmos. If that sounds like overkill, it is. Martin, who made a name for himself by pretending he had an arrow through his head, has written a piece that combines stand-up comedy with Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano.
In Ojai, California, a beautiful, celebrity-filled and health-conscious town between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, quirky Corky and normal Norm, live a quiet, antiseptic life. Influenced by New Age ideas, they descend into apologetic ritual whenever they seem to misunderstand each other. Tonight they’ve invited studly Gerald and his seductive wife, Laura, to drinks and dinner.
What starts as an opportunity to view a spectacular Perseid meteor shower (the time is 1993), soon devolves into aggressive and sexual games of Get the Guest and Hump the Hostess. As in the Albee play, sexual undertones permeate what seems to be a harmless, social evening -- with a metaphysical twist: the clashes between the superego couple, Corky and Norm, and the id couple, Gerald and Laura, are connected, however tenuously, with universal retribution.
Laura, talking about Corky, says “I feel an affinity with her,” counteracted by Norm’s “I feel an infinity with her.” But the affinity with infinity, the meteor’s heading straight for the earth, is more an attempt to give philosophical weight to the play rather than it is integral to it.
Martin constructs the play by repeating scenes with variations, changing points of view. It’s a clever gimmick, allowing us to see situations from different angles. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the play’s spine.
Still, under Gordon Edelstein’s fluid direction, with Michael Yeargan’s set design, Donald Holder’s lighting and Jess Goldstein’s costumes, the piece has an elegant look. Arden Myrin is wonderfully quirky as Corky, whose “exploding head syndrome” hides a bundle of contradictions. Patrick Breen’s Norm is sweetly befuddled while Sophina Brown’s Laura is an egoistic temptress in a clinging fuchsia dress. As Gerald, the commanding Josh Stamberg, who played the same role in San Diego, is all masculine bravado whose comeuppance is an evening highlight.
“Meteors represent the conjunction of two different worlds,” says Gerald. In “Meteor Shower,” Steve Martin wants to fuse such worlds, but his reach exceeds his grasp.