Searing, off-beat humor helps compensate for meandering plot in Benchmark Theatre production

If you’ve ever wondered what a mash up of Saturday Night Live and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? would be like, Meteor Shower could be the ticket. And if, like most of us, this mishmash has never crossed your mind, you’ll still find it worth the price of admission for 80 minutes of non-stop biting comedy and verbal jousting.

Written by comedian, actor, singer, writer and all-around Renaissance Man Steve Martin, Meteor Shower is exactly what you might expect: off-color, clever, juvenile — and did I mention laugh-out-loud funny?

Of course, it’s the delivery of the laugh lines that really makes or breaks any comedy. And for the Benchmark Theatre production, the four-person cast rounded up by director Warren Sherrill for this regional premiere absolutely makes it. Time flies as they expertly weave and dodge through meticulously timed ripostes and traipse across (and down) every inch of the limited stage space. Each character is unique, and yet the chemistry between them is as bright as the meteors in the show’s title.

Just don’t expect much of a coherent plot or robust character development. Several critics have compared the play to an extended sketch on Saturday Night Live based on an off-kilter version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Martin is so busy lining up the jokes and pratfalls that his characters are shallow and one-dimensional with relationships that are trifling at best. Which leaves you with an offbeat, meandering comedy sketch show in which the same scenes are replayed again and again with slightly different outcomes.

So just sit back and let the laughs roll in and don’t fret about a plot or worry about any unsettling feelings of déjà vu.

United against the enemy within

Ostensibly, Meteor Shower is a story of two very different couples who get together to watch the Perseid meteor shower, and almost immediately the sparks begin to fly faster inside than asteroids whizzing by outside.

But the subplot delves deeper and focuses on the darker side of the human psyche. In this case, it appears that Martin is trying to highlight the pressure modern society places on relationships and the struggle to maintain boundaries while also being open and vulnerable with your partner. It comes down to fighting together to present a united front — even if the enemy is from within.

As the play opens, we’re given a glimpse into Corky and Norm’s “pre cocktail” conversation. It’s obvious that the two have been working hard on communicating with each other. Whenever one says or does something that hurts or offends the other, they immediately take a timeout to hold hands, peer into each other’s eyes, and recite their words of healing. They are achingly sincere — at least in their commitment to appear so to each other.

Their guests, however, immediately prove that sincerity is not on their agenda — but seducing their hosts is. Smooth and oily, Gerald and Laura are so over the top they are almost painful to watch. But their cat-and-mouse games and sexual overtures are comedic grist in Martin’s hands.

Amidst the plethora of sexual innuendos and off-color jokes, Martin leverages his trademark absurdist humor to bend the fluid nature of time and “replays” the opening scene several times with different emphasis and slightly tilted perspectives. These rewinds may be a bit disorienting for the audience, but they do provide some additional insight into the characters. Just don’t plan on leaving with your existential questions about relationships, marriage or the meaning of life resolved.

(And for heaven’s sake, will someone explain the symbolism of the eggplants!)

actors

Jeffrey Parker and Damon Guerrasio | Photo: McLeod9 Creative

Spot-on casting

Sherrill has once more demonstrated his directorial chops by bringing in three out of four actors who are new to the Benchmark to develop the roles of the two couples.

Expressive Corey Exline (Corky), a relative newcomer to Colorado theatre, absolutely nails it as the well-meaning, neurotic Corky. The part was played for a brief stint by comedian and actor Amy Schumer on Broadway, where she received a Tony nomination for her dead-pan portrayal of Corky.

Exline’s Corky follows a different path. She is a nervous bundle of energy who conveys every thought and feeling on her face, whether needling her husband, diverting the tension or avoiding a wayward hand of one of her guests. Her thoughts and emotions also translate physically as she flails and paces about the stage with impeccable comedic timing.

Damon Guerrasio is the perfect foil for Exline as her husband Norman – a “norm-al” every-man role that seems written for Martin’s sidekick Martin Short. Also expressive and energetic in a more contained way, his character effortlessly flows between channeling and blocking his wife’s neurotic intensity. This is Guerrasio return to Benchmark Theatre after appearing in Airness, Benchmark’s only production of 2020.

Colleen Lee, who is also a photographer and youth theatre director, has a blast with the vixen role of Laura as she coquettishly saunters across the stage and brings the “va” to va-va-voom. She has artfully mastered the over-the-shoulder zing as she repeatedly baits her husband, Gerald, played by Jeffrey Parker.

The theater professor and speech coach may have the most challenging role with Gerald, who is just not that likeable. But it may also be the most intriguing of the four. Parker, who is a voice coach, plays it to the max with bellowing, verbose verve. His braggadocio is wince producing, which makes his eventual deflation that much more sweet to watch.

Tight quarters

Scenic designer Tina Anderson had her work cut out for her bringing Meteor Shower to the Benchmark stage. The set is modern and sleek with a Mid-Century feel, but it also feels crammed into the corner to leave room for a patio where some of the most interesting interactions occur. Anderson cleverly separated the two by using a raised platform for the interior of the home while creating a ground-level patio with two lounge chairs to the side. Neil Truglio’s lighting also helps set the atmosphere for the stage and provides additional dimension. Even with these efforts, it is a bit awkward to see all of the action from some of the seats.

If you go, show up a bit early to Benchmark and grab a pre-wine or beer (or two) from the bar and peruse the gallery. Check out the artwork wall for $50 and under pieces. Then settle in your seats to watch the stars unfold on stage.

Meteor Shower is the second production for Benchmark Theatre’s 2021/2022 season. This season’s theme is “Aftermath” as a response to the long dormancy of the theatre and other cultural organizations during the pandemic and subsequent shutdown.