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Sunday, 28 November 2010 19:51

Broadway Review: LONG STORY SHORT

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Colin Quinn in LONG STORY SHORT Colin Quinn in LONG STORY SHORT Photo: Carol Rosegg

Long Story Short marks Colin Quinn’s return to the Helen Haye’s Theatre where he previously appeared in 1998 in Colin Quinn: An Irish Wake. In the press materials for this show, it describes Quinn as using his “articulate brand of comedy” to give us a whirlwind tour of the history of the world in seventy-five minutes.  Mr. Quinn has developed a riotous, refined and polished stand-up routine with the mission of pointing out the good and bad of every major civilization ever to have existed on earth.  Quinn initially seems rigid and rehearsed but begins to loosen up as the evening progresses.  Once Quinn becomes comfortable with the audience and us with him, you realize you are watching an exceptionally well crafted piece of comedic performance art.

As directed by Jerry Seinfeld, Quinn doesn’t play off the audience at all.  He has either encouraged or allowed Mr. Quinn to move at such a rapid-fire pace as to cause Mr. Quinn to trip up verbally on more than a couple of occasions.  This also has the undesired effect of the audience missing bits of lines as their brains struggle to keep up.  Thankfully, as a critic, I am privy to a copy of the script.  Upon a reading of the script I noticed just how much I had missed but was also reminded of how funny this piece really is.

Mr. Quinn’s history takes us from the cavemen to the Sumerians and Babylonians of the Old Testament to the “thinkers,” the Greeks, to the uncerebral Romans (or the beginning of the mob as Quinn describes them).  He then moves on to the repentant, bling-laden Holy Roman Empire, and from there to Ishmael, the first Arab and their ultimate conflict with the Israelis.  He covers the Silk Road and the extension of trade from Baghdad to China and the ultimate domination and wholesale trading of India as the worlds first exchangeable commodity by the British who tried to rule everything from Ireland, to Scotland, to France (without much success in the latter), to the original 13 colonies (whom the French helped out with a certain war with England).  

Quinn doesn’t forget Spain’s foray into South America where he points out they “went for the gold” and “stayed for the drugs.”  He explores the pharmacists of the rain forests, the Mayans, the pot-crazed Aztecs and the coked-up Incas.  Along the way we also get Russia and Marxism, Africa and their ostentatious precious metal, gemstone and mineral bearing countries which were ripe for the picking by outsiders.  These are just a few of the periods that Quinn covers, it’s amazing how much world history he actually includes in this piece.  He even manages to cover the Chinese and their propensity for gambling, particularly with American debt.  

Mr. Quinn’s script is nicely laid out and punctuated with segmented sections which culminate in comedic exclamation points.  He continually points out the idiosyncrasies of languages such as the fact that shalom means “hello” and “good-bye” in Hebrew, the fact that in Spanish, the same word means “why” and “because,” por que, or the fact that Indians use the word kala to mean both “yesterday” and “tomorrow” (how confusing must that be.)    As far as shalom goes, he explains it thus “Everywhere the Jews went, they got chased out immediately. That’s why Shalom means ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ and ‘peace.’ Because that’s their story. ‘We’re here, we’re leaving, don’t hit us.’”

The set and creative projections are by David Gallo.  Mr. Gallo has created projections with a clever 3D “fly-in” starting with the planet and zooming into a continent and eventually a city.  This happens as Quinn begins a new segment addressing a particular civilization.  

There was one thing visually that drove me crazy.  Quinn’s pants didn’t fit.  They were bunched up in the front as though he bought pants that were far too big for him and then just cinched them with a belt. No costume designer is credited, perhaps they should have thought to at least give him a look-over before he went out on stage?

Towards the end of the play Quinn has a meaningful bit of imagined dialogue between America and Greece where America is admiring Greece for being the first civilized society and Greece reminds us of what Aristotle says “We are what we repeatedly do” and then implores us to rethink a few things, including eating a little less and spending a little less.  This is a harsh mirror Quinn holds in front of an American audience, our short-comings laid out bare in front of us.  Poignantly he says “we just assume everyone wants our way of life. But they want American-style democracy the way it looked 1960, when it was the Beach Boys and The Mickey Mouse Club. Now, it’s Lil Wayne and Girls Gone Wild. Not everybody wants that.”

Additional Info

  • Theatre: Helen Hayes Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 240 West 44th St. New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Play
Last modified on Monday, 29 November 2010 23:54

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