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Colin Quinn: Red State Blue State

Theatre Review by James Wilson - January 22, 2019

Colin Quinn
Photo by Edward T. Morris

One thing that Americans can all agree on is that Americans cannot all agree on anything. The cultural divides appear to increase by the day, and no matter how many times pundits, philosophers, and politicians talk about the common values that bind citizens across regions and states, the chasms grow wider and deeper. What is a nation to do? In his latest show, Red State Blue State, actor and stand-up comic Colin Quinn suggests the country may be too far gone for individual states to become united, except in an overarching name only. It is time to admit, he says, that "after all these years, maybe we need to take some time apart, divorce, separate, consciously uncouple."

Directed by Bobby Moresco, Red State Blue State is a freewheeling, discursive examination of the country's current political and social stalemate. Trying to avoid taking a side, Quinn assures his audience upfront that he will be an equal-opportunity offender and not exhibit partisan favoritism. Indeed, the show's most astute observations have to do with the fact that people are even surprised that the United States has arrived at this impasse. "Europe was our size," he explains, "and they separated into countries because they knew every 700 miles people's personalities are different. Do you really think Hungary and Scotland have less in common than Utah and New Jersey?" He certainly has a point.

A monologue about the ongoing state of the nation would seem to be a tall order for any comic, but Quinn has taken on big topics before. After all, one of his earlier shows, Long Story Short, is a 75-minute recap of the whole history of civilization. Focusing on the United States in 2019 is puny in comparison. In previous Quinn shows, however, the references were more pointed, and the comedy material more firmly grounded.

Red State Blue State, by contrast, seems scattershot as it takes aim at its satirical targets, and the material is often repetitive. Several bits, for instance, stereotypically differentiate between anti-intellectual red states and hyper-intellectual blue states. Quinn sums up the distinctions by stating, "The right can be a little bit racist and the left can be a little bit fascist. You can tell the Christians by their guns and the liberals by their suppression of free speech." As my theatre companion (admittedly an avowed liberal) pointed out, the analogies often stem from false equivalencies: Racism and intolerance of racism, for instance, are not the same thing.

The final section of the show reflects the unevenness of the writing. Standing in front of a folk artist rendering of an American map (Edward T. Morris designed the atmospheric Americana set), Quinn distills each state, geographic region by geographic region, to what it has become in the 21st century, an epitaph for America, as it were. While some of these oral tweets land effectively (such as, New Jersey: "A bad idea that continued"; and Missouri: "The show me state. Show me a reason to stop by and I will."), some come across as lazily insulting (including, Wisconsin: "You're gonna make me say it? You're fat."). The litany becomes wearying instead of comically revelatory.

Of course, one would presume that a diatribe on the present-day national situation would likely have at least some references to the current occupant in the White House. In this regard, Quinn does not disappoint. In a very funny riff, he says that for all people know, the Founding Fathers had spoken in the same manner as Donald Trump. Doing a spot-on Trump impersonation, he imagines what a contemporary Federalist might sound like: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union — and by the way it's actually getting pretty perfect right now, it's gonna be so perfect. James Madison, very bright guy, sharp guy. Only the best. Little James Madison, that's what I call him. Big supporter of mine. Crazy Al Hamilton."

Perhaps if, as Nancy Pelosi has proposed, Trump does not get to deliver his State of the Union address at the end of this month, Colin Quinn could step in as a replacement. Imperfect though they may be, Quinn's ideas for dealing with the national standoff potentially could at least get people from red and blue states talking. Maybe?

Colin Quinn: Red State Blue State
Through March 3
Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Ticketmaster

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