In Steve Martin's new play "Meteor Shower," some flashy celestial figures abruptly change the lives of four people at a backyard dinner party.
Stars are aligning in curious ways for the play itself, as it has shifted from coast to coast, from one regional theater to another.
The show is a co-production between New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre and the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Gordon Edelstein, the artistic director of the Long Wharf, directed "Meteor Shower" in both locations. "Steve Martin gave me the play about a year ago," Edelstein says. "He was immensely pleased with our productions of both 'Picasso at the Lapin Agile' and 'The Underpants.' In the case of 'The Underpants,' it was a play that had not worked in New York, and Steve loved what we had done with it. Sometime during the 'Picasso' thing, he gave me this new play. It was incomplete but enormously promising. I set to work on it. There were dozens of conversations."
Co-productions generally involve the same director, designers and cast members. But, Edelstein says, "It proved enormously difficult to get a cast for the length of time we needed" for both shows. "We essentially needed them for July 4 through Nov. 1, which is a long time for the quality of actors we wanted."
"Meteor Shower" was at the Old Globe from late July through mid-September. Before that run, which was extended twice due to the demand for tickets, was over, a completely different cast was scheduled for Connecticut. Then, last week, it was announced that a member of the Connecticut cast, Craig Bierko, was no longer with the show and that Josh Stamberg, from the California cast, would be coming east to reprise his role. Besides Stamberg, the Long Wharf cast features Arden Myrin, Sophina Brown and Patrick Breen.
Often, when a show's cast changes and other elements haven't — most commonly, in Broadway musicals — the subsequent versions of the show stay very closely to the original. But the New Haven cast, Edelstein says, chose not to see the San Diego production, offering their own fresh interpretations of the characters. This naturally led the director to make changes in his staging. Essentially directing the same show twice, with different actors, just weeks apart, "makes my job more difficult," he says, "but that can't be the biggest priority. I can't think of a director worth their salt who'd want to keep the blocking the same with different actors.
"This new cast is as distinguished as the other cast. On the fourth day of rehearsals, there were already new moments in this production that are hilarious."
'A Very Steve Martin Play'
So "Meteor Shower" is a co-production, the director clarifies, "in the sense that the concept hasn't changed. For example, the set may have been altered, but the concept of the set is precisely the same."
So the design, then, is the common link between the two phases of this singular "world premiere"? Not so fast. The Old Globe stage is round, while the Long Wharf's has a large thrust. Michael Yeargan — the Tony-winning set designer whose work also can be seen this month in the Westport Country Playhouse production of "Camelot"— says "I'd never had this experience before. I've designed 'in the round' maybe two times. The scale of the Old Globe is very small, intimate. The play actually lent itself to a kind of minimization, like a Cubist painting. When we re-examined it for the Long Wharf, it got more abstract. We added a turntable platform. It only goes a one-quarter turn, almost a pivot thing, but since the show really happens in two different spaces, it's very limiting without a turntable." To achieve the effect of a starry night, Yeargan used "a translucency, painted on the front with dye and lit from behind. It's almost like a stained-glass window."
The cosmic grandiosity, spacey ideas and illuminating ideas of "Meteor Shower" will not be a surprise to those who know Steve Martin not just as a comic actor and 1980s stand-up comedy sensation, but as a playwright, essayist, screenwriter, memoirist and art collector.
"This is a very Steve Martin play," Edelstein says. "It contains so many of the things that have interested him for the last 50 years. The play is really great. It's extremely funny. It has all kinds of opportunities for actors to go to town." Though "Meteor Shower" is set at a dinner party and contains "a lot of verbal wit," the director says, "this is not Steve Martin's attempt at witty banter. There's a lot of physical stuff."
The play contains what Edelstein calls "off-color, adult subject matter. In San Diego, where the audience is very white, very conservative, very Republican, a small percentage of that audience was scandalized. I don't think that will happen here."
The director says of Martin, "I'll tell you — he's an artist. You go into the trenches with this guy. He's amazing. He has such a fertile and nimble mind."
"METEOR SHOWER" by Steve Martin, directed by Gordon Edelstein, is at the Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven, through Oct. 23. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. There are Wednesday matinees at 2 p.m. Oct. 12 and 19. The 8 p.m. performances on Oct. 5 and Oct. 8 are largely invitation-only, with no more tickets available to the public. Tickets are $34.50 to $89.50; 203-787-4282, longwharf.org.