By Karen Isaacs
Watching Meteor Showers, the world premiere play by Steve Martin now at Long Wharf through October 23, it is obvious it is written by an intelligent individual with a quirky sense of the absurd.
For this play blends fantasy and psychology together to make interesting observations on our multi-dimensional selves and marriage in the 21st century.
The play opens at the home of Norm and Corky in the California desert. The magnificent set by Michael Yeargan shows us mid-century modern living room and the adjoining outdoor space with two chaise lounge chairs. The set rotates so the perspective changes
Norm (Patrick Breen) and Corky (Arden Myrin) are a long married couple, seemingly mild mannered. It is also clear from an early conversation that they have had some marital difficulties and consulted a therapist. Early on there is a hilarious episode of practicing a counseling technique known as reflective listening/affirmation of feelings. But they do it in a very simplistic way. It is evening and they are expecting guests – Gerald and Laura who have apparently invited themselves. Gerald and Laura have visited other couples in the area including one that Norm and Corky would like to meet. The reason for the visit? Gerald has told Norm there is a spectacular meteor shower and since Norm and Corky live in an area which gives a good view of the sky without city lights, he want to see it.
Soon Gerald and Laura arrive – actually the pre-arrival and arrival scene are repeated three times—and things feel a little strange. Both are very assertive and assured. Gerald (Josh Stamberg) both brags a great deal and seems to know everything. Laura (Sophina Brown) is dressed and acts like a seductress. The two easily dominate and fluster the quieter Norm and Corky.
Things seem to deteriorate until a meteor crashes into a chaise lounge and Norm is apparently killed. But all is not as it seems, he is not dead and arrives back at the house to find strange goings on. In the second act, after a phone call from the couple Norm and Corky hope to meet, the visit is replayed with very different results.
The play combines many elements. First of all it has elements of fantasy or perhaps more accurately nightmares. We’ve all dreamed of the predatory stranger. It is, similar to the play Constellations, a retelling of the same events with different results.
It is funny but it certainly has elements or pays reverence to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? though rather than George and Martha playing “get the guest”, here Gerald and Laura are playing “get the host.”
As I watched the play, I also recalled the pop psychology best seller of the 1970s: Eric Berne’s Games People Play and transactional analysis.
But the play can also be viewed in many other ways. As Norm and Corky seem to discover by the final curtain, Gerald and Laura are part of their own personas. Are they the people they would like to be? The people they fear they could be? The people they were when the marriage was in trouble? Do they want to break the societal expectations as Gerald and Laura do?
Your conclusions will be just that, yours. But it is certain that mixed into the humor is fear of the consequences of our impulses. What happens when the mask of civility is removed? It is we have seen occur in our world in the last of year, particularly in the political world.
Director Gordon Edelstein has done an excellent job keeping the play moving and the audience guessing. He hints at all of the possible interpretations and establishes the dynamics between the characters.
The four person cast plays off each other very well, even though there was a last minute
cast change. Craig Bierko was originally playing Gerald but he left the cast for reasons undisclosed. Luckily John Stamburg who had played the role at the Old Globe Theater (the co-presenter with Long Wharf of the play) in San Diego was able to step into the role. It is interesting that the other cast members from the Old Globe are not in this production. Rather unusual with a co-presentation.
Patrick Breen’s Norm is just as the name implies – a normal guy who keeps his emotions under control and seems a little bland. Yet he also lets you see in some of the scenes with Corky that there is something simmering below the surface. The mild manner appears forced.
Corky as played by Arden Myrin is his equal – seemingly bland and sensitive. But again it seems not quite real; Corky is playing a role perhaps due to the unexplained but acknowledged past marital problems.
Gerald and Laura are the showy roles. Josh Stamberg’s Gerald is all testosterone and bluster. He is the person who announces how much the wine he brings costs. Stamberg captures this bluster in both voice and movements; yet somehow you have an inkling that it is just for show to cover up insecurities. Sophina Brown’s Laura is all sex from her low cut, tight dress, to her movement and sexy voice. But is it a caricature or a real person?
John Gromada has composed the original music and handled the sound design which includes the crashing of the meteor. Jess Goldstein’s costumes add to our understanding of the characters.
Meteor Showers is a fascinating evening in the theater. It is at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Dr., New Haven through Oct. 23. For tickets visit longwharf.org or call 203-787-4282.