Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's reviews of Billy the Baaadly Behaving Bully Goat, Young Frankenstein, and There in the Light and the Darkness of the Self and of the Other
The first serious problem with Walnut Street Theatre's production of Meteor Shower is apparent immediately upon walking into the Independence Studio on 3. Set designer Roman Tatarowicz has chosen a unique layout for the small space: a traverse stagetwo sets of seats facing each other across a narrow runwaywith additional stage area on the left and right of the audience. The layout guarantees obstructed views for many viewers and uncomfortably cramped quarters for all of the actors. Unfortunately, this is just the first of many missteps in Debi Marcucci's sometimes funny but ultimately confounding production.
When the show starts, Corky (Susan Riley Stevens) and her husband Norm (Greg Wood) are preparing to welcome guests to their Ojai, California, home to watch the 1993 Perseid meteor shower. An endearingly earnest older couple, Corky and Norm's carefully choreographed process for conflict resolution makes it clear that they have been through more than a few therapy sessions and self-help books. Coiffed like Barbie and Ken dolls from the 1970s, Gerald (Jake Blouch) and Laura (Jessica Bedford) are their younger and more confident guests. Gerald's over the top bravado makes Norm uncomfortable, Laura's thinly veiled jabs leave Corky off kilter, and both make unwelcome sexual advances minutes after they walk in the door. At first Gerald and Laura appear to be nothing more than terribly insensitive house guests, but each time the clock skips backward or forward (there are multiple temporal shift sand associated alternative endings), we understand more about Gerald and Laura's malicious motives. Things soon become darker and more absurd, but there is still time for repeatedly holding the wold's most phallic eggplant display at waist level.
Written by legendary comedian Steve Martin, Meteor Shower opened on Broadway in 2017 as a vehicle for Amy Schumer and Keegan-Michael Key. The Walnut's production marks the first regional theater production of the show since its Broadway run ended in 2018. There are a bevy of seriously hilarious one-liners and a few uniquely clever quips about marriage, but the jokes that rely on sexual aggression and gay panic humor are just not funny.
Beyond the impressive zingers the story is labored and unwieldy, repeatedly relying on gimmicks that fall flat. For example, dim lights, a scratching record sound, and choppy movements signal the audience that time has jumped backward or forward. The choreography for these moments is inconsistent, making it hard to know whether time is moving forward or backward during the jumps. More than once an actor seemed to forget that they were not supposed to be moving normally. The show's most interesting special effect is similarly mishandled, going for a Vegas-size reveal when the small theater requires intricate sleight of hand.
There are other issues: The age disparity between the couples feels wrong, there is no convincing sexual tension anywhere, and the play's genuinely interesting foray into absurdity is quickly quashed by an excess of unnecessary exposition. But perhaps all that really matters is that The Meteor Shower's very funny moments are not enough to overcome serious problems with the story and the staging. This is one meteor shower you can feel free to miss.
Meteor Shower runs through October 27, 2019, at the Walnut Street Theatre, Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut St., Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information call 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787 or visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org.