History Relieves Itself


Colin Quinn: Long Story Short
Helen Hayes Theatre, NYC
Through February 5, 2011

It's not terribly original nor is it incredibly insightful but Colin Quinn: Long Story Short offers a fair amount of humorous moments with a relaxed delivery and distinctly American approach. Scratching at history's surface, actor/comedian Colin Quinn works to combine comedy with historical commentary and is halfway successful. It feels like an American version of Eddie Izzard's Dress to Kill, simplified for an audience not as savvy in historical trivia and more inclined to respond to images on an over-sized screen than profundity. Instead of witty allusions to semi-obscure figures and occurrences, Quinn sticks to the basics with a lot of accents and character voices thrown in for good measure.

Quinn gives a comfortable performance and, with the help of director Jerry Seinfeld, pulls off some of the best comic timing of his career. He banters with the audience, giving off an attitude of slight indifference tempered with mild irritability. One might easily get the impression that Quinn isn't too impressed with humanity but never really expected that much from it in the first place. This disillusioned sentiment sits at the core of his performance, constituting one of his most intriguing thoughts, but is never fully examined. The closet Quinn comes to facing this bleak realization head on is during a bit about cows and the relative honesty of their under-achiever approach to life.

In some ways, Quinn is the cow of this, one of his funniest jokes, methodically gnawing on the cud of life-as-he-sees-it with a general look of disinterest as he stares back out at us. Beneath this basic chewing it feels like Quinn has something harsher that he'd really like to spit out but holds back because he's afraid of losing his audience.

David Gallo's projection designs are professional, slick and somewhat offensive to the many civilizations that have sprung from the African continent. Every continent (with the exception of Antarctica) is covered by Colin in some manner and as he moves from ancient civilization to the next less-ancient civilization a large screen accompanies the transition with an image of that region's greatest architectural accomplishments. Rome has the Coliseum, India has the Taj Mahal and the U.S. has the skyline of Manhattan, but when it comes to Africa we're offered a computer-generated image of three, puny grass huts. I mean, come on Gallo, even the most narrow-minded U.S.-centric history books acknowledge the pyramids of Egypt. Either way, this somewhat cliché view of history is in keeping with the tone of the piece as a whole.

Taken at face value this is a an amusing play that moves quickly and if you're just looking for a couple of chuckles at the expense of human history then you should leave relatively satisfied, but ye who enter seeking something deeper, abandon all hope… it's just easier that way. - C. Jefferson Thom

Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.

cj_thomSierra Club