BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
"Long Story Short" is Colin Quinn's wryly funny summary of civilization (and lack of it) in 75 snarky minutes.
Neatly staged by Jerry Seinfeld, Quinn's sharp new solo show opened Sunday and is a cinch to sell out the 300-seat Bleecker Street Theatre for as long as he cares to perform it.
Sharing a bare stage with the ugliest armchair in the universe and a series of nicely understated visuals reflecting his terse remarks, Quinn begins by chatting about today's bad social behavior in supermarkets and ATMs and how it can all be traced back to caveman days.
Quinn rapidly progresses through prehistoric times to detail the blessings of classical culture, which includes the theater, although he points out how Greek taste in drama was different than ours today. "They watched Antigone on her knees, crying over the loss of her dead brother," says Quinn. "Not Snooki on the Seaside Heights boardwalk crying over the loss of her cell phone."
And so the "Saturday Night Live" veteran briskly meanders across centuries and continents, commenting drolly upon the rise and fall of nations. "Only the French could be brought down by sarcasm," remarks Quinn. "Think of how much bloodshed could have been avoided if only after ‘Let them eat cake,' Marie Antoinette could have typed ‘LOL'."
Discussing the Incas and their discovery of coca leaves, Quinn notes, "They had art, architecture, gold, mathematics, but they also has human sacrifice, beheading and cannibalism. That's cocaine - gives you the best ideas and the worst ideas simultaneously."
Often nations are characterized as people. "Russia was like the big guy at the party by himself in the corner. People would say, ‘Hey, see that big guy over there. What's his problem?' Cause Russia's always in a bad mood." Neglected by the rest of the world until the 19th century, Africa is likened to "your friend's little sister who grew up and got hot. You're like, ‘Wow, she's got a lot of, you know, natural resources. I never thought of her that way before'."
Aiming for laughs, Quinn does not get terribly serious and avoids the likes of Hitler and Osama Bin Laden but at least observes how "everybody hates everybody" these days. "Basically it's like the whole world has the atmosphere of a night club parking lot at around 3:30 in the morning."
Dressed in black jeans and sneakers, Quinn scarcely cracks a smile as he carries on in his typically acrid manner and plainspoken Brooklyn inflections, muttering sotto voce comments while waiting out the audience's laughter. Under Seinfeld's guidance, Quinn gets limber enough physically to demonstrate British contempt, French ennui and similar national attitudes.
Expect to enjoy quite a smart and amusing session with Quinn, who does not attempt to solve the world's current problems but shrewdly diagnoses its frictions by humorously exploring our social DNA.
"Long Story Short" continues through Sept. 4 at the Bleecker Street Theatre, 45 Bleecker St. at Layafette St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.colinquinnlongstoryshort.com.
ALSO BY MICHAEL SOMMERS