Review: All stops pulled out to keep Meteor Shower from landing with a thud

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Whether it’s Paul Newman’s pasta sauces, Rihanna’s fragrances or a play by Steve Martin, celebrity sells.

If Meteor Shower had been written by a relatively unknown playwright, it would never have enjoyed a Broadway production as it did briefly in 2017, and would not have graced the Max Bell Theatre as it is doing until Feb. 11.

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It is a slight and silly play, with an emphasis on silly.

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Martin began working on Meteor Shower back in 1993 and had to be coaxed into allowing it to be staged at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre in 2016. He decided not to update the play but to leave it firmly rooted in that decade because it was a time when fixing relationships was in vogue. There were seminars, retreats, self-help books, and, being California, no shortage of relationship gurus.

Corky (Helen Knight) and Norm (Nathan Schmidt) are devotedly working on their relationship. Whenever there is possible strife, they have a safe place and safe phrases where they can remind each other how much in love they are, and why a certain remark could be damaging. It’s a funny bit of schtick Martin uses to introduce us to this rather bland, needy couple.

Corky and Norm have invited Gerald (Braden Griffiths) and Laura (Bahareh Yaraghi), a couple they hardly know, over to watch a much anticipated and much-heralded meteor shower. As couples go, Gerald and Laura are the antithesis of their hosts. They are flashy, brash, and verbally and sexually liberated. It’s obvious from the moment Gerald and Laura appear that the heavens will not be the only place to experience a disturbance of epic proportions.

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It is with the arrival of Gerald and Laura that Martin lets us know he’s working in the theatre of the absurd. For the next 20 minutes, with the use of blackouts, he proposes several possible encounters, before giving us the actual arrival of what turns out to be the guests from planet hell. The audience learns, before Corky and Norm deduce it, that the reason Gerald and Laura accepted their invitation was to destroy the calm their hosts have been working so hard to sustain, even if that means, figuratively and literally seducing them into a new existence. The ravaging of Corky by her wanton guests is not unlike the comic seductions in The Rocky Horror Picture Show by those interplanetary intruders.

Knight, Schmidt, Griffiths and Yaraghi work tirelessly to keep Martin’s nonsense as buoyant as possible. Griffiths gives Gerald a boorish sheen and Yaraghi is a most convincing siren. It’s up to Knight and Schmidt to be as shocked and unsettled as the audience is meant to be. But the tables get turned, putting all four actors in completely different modes, and that’s when Schmidt and Griffiths have fun in their seduction scene.

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Director Lezlie Wade keeps things moving at the frantic pace necessary to keep the audience from realizing there really is no substance to this play. Its sole purpose is to keep pulling the rug from under the audience in much the same way Gerald and Laura are keeping their hosts confused.

Wade and her four actors are blessed to have Douglas Paraschuk’s revolving set, and Beth Kates’ lighting and projection effects to bring Martin’s topsy-turvy evening to life. There is a wonderful bit of comic mayhem each time a meteor shard strikes Corky and Norm’s backyard which is pure old-school Martin.

For prospective audiences wondering what to expect from Meteor Shower, think of it as an extended skit from Saturday Night Live.

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