By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Review
Eggplants and wine — those are the hostess gifts for a night of wine, hors d’oeuvres, and a meteor shower in Ojai, an exurban community north of Los Angeles known for its bucolic lifestyle, its artsy inhabitants, and also for its clear skies.
Ojai is the setting of Steve Martin’s world premiere play, “Meteor Shower,” continuing in double extension in the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, part of the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center in Balboa Park, through Sept. 18.
Ojai residents Corky and Norm have invited Gerald, Norm’s casual friend from their club, and his wife, Laura, over for cocktails. The purpose of the evening is to allow the Los Angeles dwellers a clear and spectacular view of the impending meteor shower. The attractive Laura apparently has an interest in the cosmos.
Martin introduces the Ojai couple prior to the arrival of their guests. If they are to be believed — if anything in this absurdist play is to be believed — Corky and Norm have been married quite some time and have raised two children, no longer living at home. Apparently they’ve had marital difficulties and engaged in some kind of couple’s therapy that allows them to communicate more directly.
Overtly more glamorous and sophisticated, Gerald and Laura are engaged in creative pursuits. They are turned out impeccably, even for a casual evening. Gerald introduces Laura as formerly obese (she’s not pleased about this). She wears a sleek, magenta dress. The sexually voracious Gerald looks as if he just stepped off a movie set. In various, re-done, re-set scenarios they seem bent on seduction.
That is comedian Steve Martin’s shtick throughout the two-act play. He allows multiple new beginnings with slightly different details. Depending on one’s attitude, the results are hilarious. The best part of director Gordon Edelstein’s staging is exploring the several abilities of his four actors in the play to make it simultaneously sincere and sincerely absurd. The results are devastatingly funny right up to and through the appearance of a recalcitrant meteor.
In Act II, Martin allows himself a complete do-over (how many have there been so far?). We, wise to aberrant events by now, can’t wait to see what happens during this take.
Martin’s cleverness never (well, hardly ever) crosses over into unbearable self-indulgence (after all, he is Steve Martin), and it seems as if, through the use of these flexible farceurs, he’s creating, or at least refining, a new form of comedy.
Let the games begin.
As Corky, Jenna Fischer has just the right mix of naiveté and insouciance. Alexandra Henrikson’s predatory Laura is an absolute hoot and Josh Stamberg’s Gerald is the perfect, glittering man-about-Hollywood. My favorite naïf, though, is Greg Germann’s Norm, an excellent physical comedian who brings a new depth of sincerity to the style. He is utterly likable and beguiling. (Note: Fischer is best known as Pam on “The Office,” and Germann for his role as Richard Fish in David E. Kelley’s 1990 television comedy, “Ally McBeal.”)
As always, the Globe production values are outstanding. Michael Yeargan creates a perfect, well-appointed indoor/outdoor playing area with the most amazing chaise lounge ever seen. Jess Goldstein’s costumes are characterful indeed, and Donald Holder’s strategically timed lighting, with its thousand meteors, is impeccable. John Gromada creates the sound and a song worth missing the interval to hear.
Martin, whose other Globe premiere, the endearing musical “Bright Star” (co-written with Edie Brickell) recently enjoyed a respectable run on Broadway, should be pleased with his treatment here.
Many happy returns, beginning with Globe Artistic Director Barry Edelstein’s (no relation to Gordon Edelstein) February 2017 production of Martin’s early comedy, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.”
— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenebaldridge.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.