Steve Martin is one of the best-known comedians in the world, rising to stardom in the 1970s with his “wild and crazy guy” routine on “Saturday Night Live.”
Since then, he has written several screenplays and appeared in many movies, hosted the Academy Awards and recorded an award-winning bluegrass album; and if all that is not enough, he has written novels and plays. I tend to be skeptical when I hear that a famous actor has suddenly decided to be a novelist or a playwright, but I was impressed with his adaptation of Carl Sternheim’s play “The Underpants.” Although the success may have had more to do with Sternheim’s gifts than with Martin’s, it is undoubtedly one of the funniest plays I’ve ever read.
Martin’s most recent dramaturgical effort, “Meteor Shower” — currently receiving its Southwest premiere at Fusion Theatre — is even funnier than “The Underpants,” especially as performed by the superlative Fusion cast, who approach the outrageous material with unabashed gusto and meticulous comic skill.
The play is a ruthless skewering of Southern California pretension and narcissism, and at the same time an absurd look at marriage in the modern world. Norm and Corky are an attractive middle-aged couple experimenting with New Age techniques of inculcating marital harmony. Whenever one of them says something even remotely insensitive, they hold hands, make eye contact, and say, “I love you and I know you love me. I understand you probably didn’t mean to hurt me, but please be more careful with my feelings.”
At the start of the play, they are awaiting the arrival of another couple for cocktails. Gerald and Laura are their polar opposites: crass, aggressive, sexually rapacious and utterly superficial. In fact, this is the repressed superego meeting its own unrepressed id, and it makes for one wild, over-the-top explosion of absurd and surreal comedic encounters.
Director Robb Sisneros has cast four excellent actors, who under his guidance are in top form. Bruce Holmes, who from past performances we might expect to see in the role of Gerald, has carefully manicured his tousled long hair and excess energies to play “normal Norm,” and he has never been better. As his wife, Corky, Jacqueline Reid demonstrates not only precise comic timing but lithe limbs, as she deftly manipulates a piece of celery with her left leg, much to Laura’s bemused astonishment and the audience’s astonished delight.
New York actress Celia Schaefer delivers each gesture, turn of the head and phrase with comic precision, and is hysterical as the sexually voracious bisexual Laura. Matt Miller plays her husband, Matt, with lascivious delight and perfectly calibrated manic energy. This is tour de force ensemble playing, as good as you’ll find anywhere in the country.
Set designer Richard Hogle has crafted a precise facsimile of a tasteful upper middle-class California dining room and patio. The color pattern is exquisitely coordinated and the design dominated by a work of abstract modern art that might be taken for a perfectly spherical meteor headed straight for planet Earth.
This is for mature audiences, but not to be missed.
“Meteor Shower” is playing at The Cell, 700 First NW, although the final performance, on April 6, will be at the KiMo Theater, 423 Central NW. Go to fusionnm.org or call 766-9412 for reservations.