Cast Eclipses ‘Meteor Shower’ Script at Maryland Ensemble Theater
Frederick’s Maryland Ensemble Theater (MET) goes “wild and crazy” with Steve Martin. Meteor shower. The four cast members, led by Tad Janes, work hard to be as wild and crazy as possible. Their ability to generate plenty of laughs from Martin’s one-liners fails to redeem his storyline by an inch deep.
Kaydin Hamby’s excellent sound design begins with a pre-show recorded reading of clichéd self-improvement advice, mixed with suitably tasteless music. That’s important because the first couple we see — earnest, initially somewhat passive Corky (Jennifer Pagano) and Norm (Jack Evans) — regulate their relationship through the restrictions of such advice. It’s enough to make you think that meteor shower will be a parody of psychobabble (“If you don’t take care of your subconscious, it will take care of you”), except that by the end of the play, the script seems to embrace it.
The setup has Corky and Norm, in anticipation of a spectacular meteor shower, preparing to entertain another couple, alpha male + Gerald (Matt Baughman) and vampire Laura (Shea-Mikal Green). In Baughman’s skilled physical acting performance, Gerald is the craziest and craziest of the lot. He quickly encroaches on Corky and Norm’s physical space, as he and Laura begin a game of sexual one-upmanship on their hosts, seeking the “total collapse” of their relationship.
Rewind the tape. Several times. The scenes are replayed, with additional variations and revelations, in various chronological configurations. The effect is that of a funhouse mirror taking themes from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfreimagined as a series of Saturday Night Live sketches.
Amid all of this, the actors, especially Pagano, deliver the one-liners to good effect. For example, as Gerald and Laura prepare to leave after the chaos is over, Gerald admits that they might have overstayed their welcome. Norm responds, “Oh, that’s impossible. You were never welcome. Asked: “Aren’t you glad you’re not a man?” Corky responds, “Oh, so relieved. I couldn’t stand all the benefits. Then there’s a colloquy involving Corky’s description of her husband’s endowment: ‘He was photographed by Mapplethorpe.’ Heard of it? “Word of mouth.” Bad boom.
There are vegetable jokes, with eggplant and celery. Not to leave the carnivores unsatisfied, Corky had a bout of situational cannibalism. A detailed depiction of Gerald’s drug addiction draws its humor from Corky’s obliviousness. Comical use is made of “exploding head syndrome”, which sounds like an invention of Martin but is an actual sleep disorder, probably less comical for those who suffer from it. The titular meteor shower also plays its part, leading to a delightful special effect involving a video-enhanced smoking hole in a character’s midsection.
But the engine of action is sex. While Corky and Norm resolve their relationship issues through new-age rituals, Gerald and Laura resolve theirs through performative grinding. Gerald and Laura are determined to achieve their goals by seducing Corky and Norm. When, in the final variation on the evening’s festivities, Corky and Norm – this time warned of the other couple’s malevolent intentions – reverse the roles of Gerald and Laura, they exert dominance via mock homosexual assault on full blast.
Unfortunately, in-character comedy is a foreign concept to the play. Corky, Norm, Gerald and Laura never become real characters rather than devices to deliver Martin’s clever lines. Since the audience never gets a chance to engage with the characters, the stakes remain low. It’s not the fault of the actors, who do their best to deliver the fragile goods. Pagano’s prolonged scream in the middle of the show – even Fay Wray might envy her – is an example of this.
The physical production of MET is well executed. David DiFalco’s set is split into two sections, one representing the hosts’ living room, decorated in bland Southern California tones, and the other their patio, with two daybeds (the back cushion of one of them is changed to illustrate a meteor shower effect). The arrangement serves well the frequent two-character scenes in which the remaining characters are out of visual and auditory range. Will Heyser-Paome’s lighting design focuses attention, as it should, on which of the two playfields sits in the center of a scene, and adds yellow specials depicting meteors.
The highlight of Taylor Burke’s costume design is a blazing red jacket for Gerald, as well as his blazing version later in the show. Corky and Norm are dressed blandly, blending in perfectly with their surroundings. Laura’s puffy black dress might have been something more form-fitting, given her seductive intentions.
In the production of TEM of meteor shower, the actors outclass the material. The whole play never becomes equal to, let alone greater than, the sum of its often amusing parts.
Duration: 90 minutes, without intermission.
meteor shower plays through April 24, 2022 at the Maryland Ensemble Theater, 31 Patrick Street, Frederick MD. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m.; Sunday performances are at 3 p.m. Tickets, priced at $28, are available in line or through the theater box office, 301-694-4744.
the meteor shower the program is online here.
COVID safety: As of March 11, 2022, Maryland Ensemble Theater no longer requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter, but masks are strongly recommended. If a ticket holder is not comfortable with these guidelines, the theater will refund the full purchase price. A full explanation of this policy change is here.