The Stars Don’t Align for “Meteor Shower”

Stars draw the crowds on Broadway these days, but seldom has shrewd casting created such an instant must-see as Steve Martin’s new comedy Meteor Shower. The big attraction is a pair of acclaimed TV comedians making their Broadway debuts: Keegan-Michael Key, co-creator of the superb sketch-comedy series Key and Peele, and Amy Schumer, who has shown her acting chops not only on her show Inside Amy Schumer but in her sharp feature-film debut, Trainwreck. Great to see both of them on stage. Too bad it isn’t under better circumstances.

Martin’s play (which has been staged previously outside New York) is a slim, shaky piece.  A married couple (Schumer and Jeremy Shamos) addicted to new-age marital counseling invite some new friends (Key and Laura Benanti) to their house for a dinner party to watch the eponymous stellar event. But an evening of astronomy and small talk quickly turns into a battle with the bullish newcomers, who seem bent on upending the marriage of their fragile hosts. A decent, if familiar, premise — but any realistic satire of the needs and neuroses of modern marriage quickly goes off the rails into outlandish farce. (Husband blurts out a confession to the guests: his wife once cannibalized her best friend on a camping trip.) And then things really get weird.

My guess is that Martin had in mind an absurdist mixture of Albee and Ionesco, with a dash of Pinteresque menace.  But veteran comedy director Jerry Zaks can’t see beyond the broadest laughs. And he forces his stars to do the same. Key bounds onto the stage as the pompous interloper with such a shrill voice and machine-gun delivery that he might be playing the foppish villain in a Restoration comedy. Schumer is a little more grounded, but she can never really locate her character, and compensates with sitcom mugging and too many piercing screams.

As for the meteor shower, it provides the occasion for one silly, cartoonish sight gag, but otherwise is pretty much a fizzle. Like the play.

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