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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Colin Quinn: Long Story Short
Philadelphia Theatre Company

In Long Story Short, comedian Colin Quinn aims to prove that, despite what you may have heard, the world is not in decline; human nature has always been the same throughout history. There's nothing earth-shaking about his thesis, and there's nothing side-splitting about his humor. But he still manages to be very funny, and if his show isn't a must-see, it's still a very entertaining 75 minutes. Quinn's show plays it safe at times, but he has just enough of an edge to make you wonder what's coming next.

Quinn surveys most of the major civilizations and regions of the world throughout history, finding something to mock everywhere along the way. And he blends in observational humor to show how it all relates to the modern world. For instance, a discussion of Plato's cave theory leads him to find a parallel to the recent economic collapse. The world's greatest economists never saw the collapse coming, Quinn posits, because they gathered to discuss the economy in beautiful Davos, Switzerland. If their conference had been in Haiti, says Quinn, their economic forecast would have been completely different. It's a rather circuitous—but illuminating—illustration of Plato's theory.

And on and on Quinn goes. The relationship between the United States and Canada? Just like the relationship between charismatic bad boy Charlie Sheen and his bland, respectable brother Emilio Estevez. The ostentatious display of wealth and power at the Vatican during the Holy Roman Empire? Just like "a Death Row Records release party during the nineties." Islam's obsession with destroying Israel? Just like "a guy who breaks up with his ex and thinks about her all the time." Quinn covers a lot of ground here, and even if his theories give new meaning to the word "reductive," he does make some clever points as he covers material both familiar and exotic.

Quinn, who spent several years anchoring the Weekend Update segment on "Saturday Night Live," speaks with a Brooklyn accent and a conversational tone. Sometimes that tone is too conversational: on opening night, when he improvised a throwaway line, he tended to swallow his words, speeding up and letting his voice diminish at the end of the sentence. To enliven his show, he relies on designer David Gallo, whose stage set (resembling a crumbling amphitheatre) and computer animations (showing empires in both their rise and their fall) drive home Quinn's arguments. Director Jerry Seinfeld (who knows a thing or two about observational humor) has divided the show into miniature scenes, punctuated by blackouts and music, to give it a coherent structure.

Long Story Short is enjoyable, even if it's a bit too ambitious for its own good. There are lots of memorable lines, but the approach seems halfhearted at times; it doesn't always rise to the high (and low) standards that Quinn has set. But it'll make you think and it'll make you laugh. No, it's not perfect or persuasive—but hey, when was the last time you saw a comedian mock both the Michelle Pfeiffer movie Dangerous Minds the Dutch East India Company?

Colin Quinn: Long Story Short runs through July 10, 2011, and is presented by the Philadelphia Theatre Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are $51 $65, with discounts for students, seniors and groups, and are available by calling the box office at 215-985-0420, online at www.philadelphiatheatrecompany.org, or by visiting the box office.


-- Tim Dunleavy



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