Theater Review: “Meteor Shower"

Greg Germann appears as Norm and Josh Stamberg as Gerald
Photo credit:
Jim Cox

Ah, those deadly after-dinner parties. Playwrights love ’em – especially Edward Albee, who penned the grandpa of them all, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Echoes of Albee can be heard in the world premiere of Steve Martin’s new play at The Old Globe – the much wackier “Meteor Shower,” which posits a cocktail party for a quartet of strangers with agendas who meet on a 1993 evening in Ojai, Calif. – a night which promises a real live display of meteors hurtling toward earth.

“Meteor Shower,” a co-production with New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre, plays through Sept. 18 in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. Gordon Edelstein (no relation to the Globe’s artistic director) helms.

Hosting are Norm (Greg Germann) and Corky Kookendahl (Jenna Fischer), a youngish couple who seem to have Made Their Marriage Work, but not without significant effort. Thoughtless comments are met with a ritualized session in “talking mode,” an exercise in which affirmations, admission of perceived offenses and other ’60s claptrap are enlisted to heal the inflicted wounds. It is, to say the least, odd to watch.

Norm (Greg Germann) is solid, easygoing, comfortable looking, built for the hug. Corky (Jenna Fischer) seems a good hostess type, verbally adept, with curiosity and an adventurous streak that led her to adopt “15 beliefs over three months” in college, and later to believe in crystals (big in the ’60s). Remember, this is California.

The guests (who may offer an entree to people Norm and Corky want to meet for business reasons) are Gerald (Josh Stamberg) and Laura Newman (Alexandra Henrikson), from Santa Barbara. 

Tall, well built, ruggedly handsome and full of it – and himself – Gerald has a low, authoritative voice that makes you want to believe the drivel he spouts as gospel. Watch for his description of the “bug flux.”

Laura is a statuesque blonde, beautiful, sexy and sure of herself, who claims to have been an editor at “Vogue” until “the West Coast office closed.”

George and Martha played “Get the Guests.” The Newmans’ equivalent reverses the aggressors; the point is to elicit intimate information from the hosts with nosy questions and wild stories of their own – the wilder the better.

I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovering the increasing strangeness of the stories these folks tell each other and the events which intervene; just know that Martin offers several versions to choose from. Whether any of them are true doesn’t really matter.

This is Steve Martin; his goal is to provide amusement, and that he does. Just be prepared for some pretty off-the-wall stuff. Edelstein keeps the craziness going at a near-breakneck clip and the cast does the rest. 

Fischer (award-nominated for her role as Pam Beesly on TV’s “The Office”) amuses as “good wife” Corky, for whom “talking mode” hasn’t quite done the job. Germann’s Norm seems rather the weak, henpecked husband, but might surprise when the game changes to “Get the Guests.”

Stamberg’s Gerald is the real case here, a leather-jacketed, coke-snorting Macho Man who wants what he wants and expects to get it. But he is fun to watch.

Henrikson is a joy to watch as well – Laura the blonde lioness, just itching to mix it up, sexually or verbally.

A top-notch tech team adds production values. Michael Yeargan has designed a classy set for the Ojai house. Jess Goldstein’s costumes reflect their characters nicely. Donald Holder’s lighting and John Gromada’s sound design and original music set the scenes beautifully as well.

“Meteor Shower” offers plenty of star power wrapped around a crazy but amusing story. 

The details

“Meteor Shower” plays through September 18, 2016 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre,1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or theoldglobe.org