Astronomers are heralding this year’s Perseid meteor shower as a “once-in-a-decade outburst.” Outbursts of a different sort reign supreme in Steve Martin’s new play “Meteor Shower,” having its world premiere at The Old Globe.
The year is 1993, on a warm summer night in backcountry, spiritually-centric Ojai, California. Norm (Greg Germann) and Corky (Jenna Fischer) await the arrival of Laura (Alexandra Henrickson) and Gerald (Josh Stamberg) for cocktails and celestial gazing. The guests are chance acquaintances invited by Norm in the hope that currying favor with the perceived well-connected couple will lead to coveted social introductions that benefit his design business.
In the final nervous minutes before the doorbell rings, Norm says something thoughtless that offends Corky. Rather than trigger a fight, conflict resolution takes the form of the twosome silently crossing the room and facing each other, as if ready to engage in a game of pat-a-cake. Corky calmly states the nature of the slight and how it wounded her. Norm actively listens, acknowledges his transgression and apologizes. They embrace then resume setting out celery sticks and dip. This is how they make their marriage work.
Enter Gerald and Laura: He a leather-clad swaggerer who boasts the bottle of wine he hands his hosts cost $80; she a maneater with legs like a racehorse and more curves than NASCAR. The evening unfolds like a cross between “Dangerous Liaisons” and “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” as Gerald and Laura embark (at one point high-fiving like ballplayers trading places in the dugout) on a manipulative zero-sum game of power. This is how they make their marriage work.
But wait, the scene is revisited several times from differing points of view yielding wildly different outcomes. The common thread running through these alternate universes is the universe itself as the night sky provides both a light show and impactful surprises of its own.
Given Steven Martin’s comic style, the laughs here (and there are a boatload of them) derive less from the written material and more from the physicality and heat-generating movement of the actors as they move in on their prey and perfectly timed silences of innocent bystanders after particularly provocative lines are delivered. High marks to director Gordon Edelstein for coalescing this cast of four enormously talented actors.
Scenic designer Michael Yeargan conveys a high-end, mid-century look to Norm and Corky’s living room transitioning to a back yard where a meandering grass path leading to chase lounges from which characters trade places (and sexual partners) when not viewing the sky.
Costumes by Jess Goldstein effectively contrast the personalities of the couples: casual and unassuming Norm and Corky versus rough-and-tumble Gerald and take-no-prisoners Laura.
Mood and scene transitions are enhanced by original music and sound design by John Gromada.
Lighting designer Donald Holder uses the walls and ceiling of Globe’s theater in the round to great effect by surrounding the audience with the Milky Way. Shooting stars punctuate the story and evoke delight. Don’t be surprised to find yourself looking to the heavens as you make your way to the parking lot.