Colin Quinn Long Story Short
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 23, 2010
Long Story Short could be a play, but in fact it feels more like a series of standup comedy sketches, performed one after another, riffing on a similar set of subjects. The main subject is the way that man has evolved—or failed to evolve—as a political animal over the millennia. In places, Quinn offers smart, even profound commentary on our inability to learn lessons of the past or our careless inhumanity toward folks who are different from ourselves. These moments point to the show Long Story Short might have been.
But they don't come all that often; much of the material here is straight from Comedy Central (and by that I mean both the actual TV network and a metaphorical construct), and trades in familiar jibes about the differences between men and women and the funny characteristics of various cultures. Quinn's format—essentially a travelogue, with each of the show's sections focused on a particular spot on the globe—enables him to cover a lot of ground, and so pretty much every ethnic group well-known to Americans turns up: Jews, Italians, Africans, Australians, New Yorkers; the Brits, the French, the Ancient Greeks, and so on. Sometimes Quinn gets the stereotype right-on and I found myself laughing in spite of myself. Much of the time, the humor comes from juxtaposing modern behavior anachronistically with historical circumstance (for example, the Romans building the Coliseum are portrayed as contemporary union members).
And sometimes, cleverly, the humor comes from anthropomorphizing countries. The bit in which Quinn explains recent world history as if it were a series of barroom brawls is both hilarious and perceptive. But even here, in the details, there's a laziness in the writing that keeps the piece from being full-out brilliant. I kept wishing that Quinn would take his metaphors up a notch; would really polish them until they gleamed brightly and smartly. But instead, he seems content throughout to go for easy and comfortable laughs, not making either his audience or himself have to think too hard.
Jerry Seinfeld's direction isn't particularly evident (not, to cadge from the master, that there's anything wrong with that). I suspect the buttons that cap each segment are his contribution. They work, but they more than anything else keep Long Story Short firmly rooted in the world of standup, never mind that it's being presented in a Broadway theatre named after one of the 20th century's most distinguished dramatic actresses.
David Gallo's design—notably the projections and computer animations that frame every segment—adds a lot, as do lighting by Howell Binkley and sound by Christopher "Kit" Bond. It's a very professional presentation.
And Quinn is certainly ingratiating and good-humored, if not—at least at the performance I reviewed—especially engaged with his material and his audience. I've seen Jackie Mason perform comedy not unlike this many times, and each time the show is charged with the energy of the moment and the mood of the room; you can feel that man take sustenance from the crowd. Here, though, I was more aware of a practiced and skillful comedian going through the motions, and I left Long Story Short wondering if it would have felt at all different if I'd seen the same show on the tube on HBO.