It was one of the most promising and exciting ideas of the fall theater season: bring together two of today’s most popular young comedians (Amy Schumer and Keegan-Michael Key), plus two stage actors with terrific comic abilities (Laura Benanti and Jeremy Shamos), to star in a new play by a leading comedian of an earlier generation (Steve Martin).
Unfortunately, “Meteor Shower” (as directed by Jerry Zaks, who recently staged the “Hello, Dolly!” revival) turned out to be a nonsensical and tedious skit that is simultaneously starry and substandard, flimsy and overstuffed. I’m even tempted to call it a “trainwreck” (in a nod to Schumer’s hit 2015 film).
Built around a scenario derivative of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a naive, well-meaning couple (Schumer and Shamos) is visited one evening by a mysterious, flashy couple (Benanti and Key) while a meteor shower is raging outside.
Martin unsuccessfully attempts to take the 90-minute, four-character play beyond the limits of the traditional sitcom with absurdist twists and turns, nonlinear stops and starts and theoretical propositions (“If you don’t deal with your subconscious, it will deal with you”). Throw in an unlikely encounter with a flying object, and it is all a puzzling mess.
Schumer, who has won fame with a raunchy, self-deprecating style of comedy, inexplicably plays an uptight and uninteresting character. Except for a few moments when she is permitted to let loose and clown around, she displays blank facial expressions and appears lost and miscast.
Under what appears to have been aggressively broad direction from Zaks (perhaps an attempt to compensate for the play’s shortcomings), the other actors give over-the-top performances, including a loud and manic Key (forcefully delivering his lines like a sports announcer), a kooky and sexed-up Benanti, and an anxious and perplexed Shamos.
The cast and audience alike would be better off if the script was tossed out entirely and Schumer and Key simply did stand-up routines instead. Plus, Benanti could perform a few songs and do her Melania Trump impression, and I’m sure they could find something for Shamos (who replaced Alan Tudyk during rehearsals) to do.