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Theatre in Review: Colin Quinn: Red State Blue State (Minetta Lane Theatre)

Colin Quinn. Photo: Edward T. Morris.

Other than the Statue of Liberty, Colin Quinn is currently my favorite American icon. The comedian has decided to wade into the degraded national discourse -- an act of folly, you might say, since half of the United States isn't speaking to the other half -- but the result is one of his liveliest shows. Taking an equal-opportunity approach -- slicing and dicing those on the far right and left -- the comedian has come up with a merrily nonpartisan evening that is likely to satisfy anyone with a sense of humor, no matter which way you vote.

"You seem like nice, reasonable people," Quinn says, eyeing the audience, but, really, he's just flattering us. As he points out, we're in a hell of a mess. "The red states hate Hollywood and the media. They won't even go to the movies or read The New York Times. And the blue states don't use tobacco, dairy, or cabs. The reds base their votes on Paul's letters to the Corinthians, and the blue are voting from The Chomsky Reader."

If we have to live in such tumultuous times, at least we have Quinn to keep us amused at the awfulness in which we're mired. Even when he is hitting familiar notes, he does so with his own oddball slant that generates authentic shock-of-recognition laughs; their amusement level is only increased by that rusty-hasp voice and understated tone of incredulity at the absurdity of it all. He has his own unique way with the ills of social media, which he compares to "drunks at a wedding grabbing the microphone," especially celebrities who engage in Twitter wars on social issues. ("You have famous people having decades-long arguments with Mississippi teenagers over the Affordable Care Act.") He adds that Tinder would make Caligula blanch, and makes short work of political correctness. ("That's why I got into comedy. To march in lockstep with society's contemporary conventions.")

Of course, there is the ongoing matter of a certain chief executive. At the performance I attended, Quinn got his biggest laugh with a throwaway comment that, in the US, "anybody can grow up to be president." He does a more-than-creditable Trump imitation, and one of the piece's gems is his riff on how the end of the current administration is likely to resemble the last scene of Brian DePalma's Scarface, complete with a raid by Navy SEALs.

Red State Blue State benefits from a slick production by the director, Bobby Moresco, and his design team. Edward T. Morris' nifty set backs the star with a drop made of unfinished wood planks -- a log cabin effect, if you will -- on which has been painted a smudged outline of the continental US in red and blue. Aaron Copp's lighting subtly paces the action with a series of understated cues. Sam Kusnetz's thoroughly natural sound design allows Quinn to low-ball gags for big laughs.

Even at a brief seventy-five minutes, the fun thins a bit at a certain point, due to the show's single-note focus. But, after a slowish few minutes, Quinn recovers quite nicely, thank you, with a nuttily imaginative essay on how "the history of humanity" is "like the life of a person," followed by a lightning round of one-liners casting shade on each of the fifty states. Among those that have loomed large in my life, he amusingly libels Ohio ("reliable, relatable, replaceable"), Rhode Island ("The last state where the governor has a baseball bat in his trunk"), and New York ("Once drunken writers at Elaine's. Now drunken texters at SantaCon").

Hidden inside this bill of comic complaints is a solid fund of common sense; his argument that the US should have become another Europe, consisting of several different countries, each with its distinct ethos and mores, is really quite elegant, as is the notion that, even now, we might become a collection of city-states. Whether anyone will listen is another matter. Never mind; if Colin Quinn remains a prophet without honor in his own land, he's still a mighty funny one. -- David Barbour

(25 January 2019)

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