Long Story Short
Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - November 9, 2010
Colin Quinn Long Story Short Written and performed by Colin Quinn. Directed by Jerry Seinfeld. Scenic and projection design by David Gallo. Lighting design by Howell Binkley. Sound design by Christopher “Kit” Bond. Original compositions by Scott Elmegreen.
Quinn unleashes his musings while pawing his way about a set (by David Gallo) that blends visual elements simultaneously recalling the theater at Epidaurus, Mesoamerican step pyramids, and the musty uncertainty of a half-scoured archaeology site. The setting (which is crowned by a giant projection screen for illustrating concepts ranging from the formation of the universe to the questionable glory of the Great American Melting Pot) conveys exactly the proper feeling, as Quinn’s temporal travelogue both fuses together everything we know with what we only suspect or may be in the process of discovering. The truth is there, Quinn argues, but you have to be willing to look for it.
And willing Quinn and Seinfeld are. They refuse to mince words or settle for the kind of whitewashed, politically correct interpretations that could all too easily make this show — or any like it — into an exercise in tedium. Fingers are pointed, names are named, and pretty much every major culture is insulted along the way. Yet somehow no one is insulted, which leaves these two acclaimed funnymen showing us not just what history should be, but what comedy should be. That the point of the show is that it's often difficult to distinguish the two only makes a good thing better.
From the introspective and philosophical Greeks (who forced their children to watch 40 hours of theatre per week) to the aggressive Romans to the stuffy pre-Revolutionary French and their centuries-long codependent relationship with the imperialistic English to of course the Americans that have inherited the best and worst of everything that’s come before, everyone makes an appearance, everyone makes an impact, and everyone makes you laugh. (This includes the Arab section, which treads lightly but at least comes complete with its very own absent depiction of Mohammed.)
Quinn’s crackly deadpan is a choice instrument for underscoring the sneering, spitting, and swordplay that have defined life on Earth since the very beginning, and cleverly reduces titanic and inconsequential events alike into the kind of gabbing you’d overhear after work at a bar. It proves a natural pairing for the comic vision you can feel Seinfeld wield from the wings: In the way certain running gags (family car rides as a metaphor for international communications, the European hissy fits that could have erupted from a young adult novel) tie together disparate events and ideas, you feel as comfortable with the ebb and flow of humanity as you did the title waves of nothings on Seinfeld's self-titled TV show.
If the union of the comedians' talents is generally fortuitous, it's not perfect. Certain sections drag: A bizarrely brief digression to Russia and an arid bit about South America don’t quite ignite the way most of the rest of the show does, and seem more like equal-opportunity filler than vital sociopolitical explorations. And despite the theater’s small size, Quinn is still struggling to fill it — much of the material is appropriately intimate for Off-Broadway (the show premiered in a simpler form at the Theatres at 45 Bleecker in August), but needs a bit more of the presentational size and scope that will make this sweeping evening a legitimately epic one.
Even so, this volatile mixture of surprisingly high-brow hilarity is difficult to resist. It's thoughtful, useful comedy that makes you work to fully appreciate it, then makes you glad you applied the effort, then makes you think about what you just absorbed. No, the likes of Communism, Fascism, and warring African tribe wars may not seem like natural joke material. But Quinn and Seinfeld use every minute of their play to convince you that civilization is indeed a laughing matter — even if five continents and some 30,000 years leave you thinking that Long Story Short could delight even if it were quite a bit longer.