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A CurtainUp Review
Colin Quinn: Long Story Short
Charles Darwin talked about 'survival of the fittest.' Well, we're the survivors, clearly, we're not the fittest. It's something else about us. No offense, but we're the descendants of the pricks. We're not the people who starved to death waiting their turn. We're not the After You's, we're the After Me's. .— Colin Quinn
Colin Quinn
Colin Quinn
(Photo by Carol Rosegg)
If you buy a ticket, or otherwise enroll, for the Long Story Short class/lecture given by the personable comedian Colin Quinn, you will undoubtedly be impressed and possibly delighted at how he compresses the history of mankind/civilization into a fact and fun packed seventy five minutes. His humor-inflected monologue focuses on the why, how, and therefore behind the dissolution and in some cases the total demise of the world's greatest empires, nations, and cultures. Quinn stands among some faux stone steps and in front of a large curved (think mini-Cinemascope) screen upon which are projected a stunning array of classical scenes, the work of designer David Gallo. Behind the screen is an expansive map of the world. What a world it is that we are about to learn about.

  Quinn begins glibly with a few diverting accounts of rude people behaving badly in a hospital and in an elevator. Forgiven. It's a warm-up. Without becoming professorial, he segues casually into the myths, religious beliefs, philosophcial, social and political underpinnings of the worlds most dominent civilizations. Funnier than you may think.

Whether Quinn's spiel of one-liners will keep you laughing, or instead give you the feeling that you are living in the midst of an implosion of yet another empire, is entirely up to you. Quinn's motor-mouthed oral thesis may not always be uproarious, but it is consistently rib-tickling. Certainly not didactic in his presentation, Quinn stands before us, a regular looking, casually dressed guy who knows precisely how to deliver his brand of satiric humor.

  His aim, we may presume, is to make us see the historical links that took us from the various mostly violent groups of cave men in need of a leader all the way forward in time for a paralleled glimpse of the scary/tough lugs who duke it out for supremacy in the lot behind the neighborhood bar. History we are made to see is not only constantly repeating itself but revealing itself as a comedy of epic proportions. If, as Quinn reminds us, it was up to the Greeks to philosophize that "An unexamined life is not worth living." Where then did this examination of the self actually lead them? To the theatre, of course: "Greek children watched about 40 hours of plays a week. A lot of parents felt it was too much, but what could they do? The kids were glued to it."

  With Long Story Short Quinn, the former Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central star, has created an engaging, often witty, showcase for himself and his deployable talent: a gift for different dialects, subtle inflections and the kind of resourceful body language that have defined many a race and culture. Of course there's a stretch when his Caesar sounds and postures like an Italian don and when the English can't help blathering like effete Shakespeareans.

  A success when it opened for a limited run this past summer (June 19 through September 4) Off Broadway at 45 Bleecker, Long Story Short also has the added cachet of being directed by mega comedy star Jerry Seinfeld. If one can detect Seinfeld's influence, it is probably in the way that he keeps Quinn committed to the text — especially as he recounts the influence of the Greek philosophers, the birth of Democracy, the empirical ambitions of the Romans and the abuse of Democracy, and the failure of our economic summits. The latter he blames on Switzerland for a very good reason that I won't disclose.

  Quinn is at his funniest when he considers the Chinese work ethic and the real logic behind their building of the Great Wall. He gives the Russians credit for inventing depression, but credits himself for figuring out the reasons why the history of Africa is best understood if you think of six Brooklyn high schools getting out at once.

  It is Quinn's road-runner style that remains at the fore,. It's a style that is never compromised by self-serving asides or shtick. At his best, Quinn draws all kinds of comical parallels between us and ancient cultures, particularly with the drug-intoxicated Mayans and Aztecs. Without being offensive, quite a feat considering the sensitivities and ethnicities embraced, he observes the behavioral idiosyncrasies that have made the English appear as if they have a general contempt for the rest of the world, and the French who don't seem to care much one way or the other. And how can we expect the Jews to make up their minds when the word "Shalom" means both hello and goodbye? Ask an Italian a question and he'll answer, "What are you, a cop?"

  Ultimately Quinn reveals the course of history as a constant battle between the tough guys and the smart guys and more importantly how the course of history might have been changed had Marie Antoinette ended her famous remark about cake with "LOL."

  This production marks Quinn's return to the Helen Hayes Theatre where he starred in Colin Quinn — An Irish Wake in 1998.

Colin Quinn: Long Story Short
  By Colin Quinn
  Directed by Jerry Seinfeld

  Cast: Colin Quinn
  Scenic and projection Design: David Gallo
  Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
  Sound Design: Christopher "Kit" Bond
  Running Time: 1 hour 15 minutes no intermission
  Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44th Street
  (212) 239 - 6200
  Tickets ($59 - $98)
  Performances: Monday, Wednesday through Friday at 8 PM; Tuesdays at 7 PM; Saturdays at 2 PM, 5 PM, and 8 PM.
  Special added performances Thanksgiving week: Friday 11/26 at 3 PM and Sunday 11/28 at 3 PM.
  Previews began 10/22/10
  Opened 11/09/10
  Ends 01/08/11--extend to 3/05/11
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 11/05/10
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