Colin Quinn has focused his cross-hairs on the World, Long Story Short, and on the Constitution, Unconstitutional, and now on the City of Manhattan in Colin Quinn The New York Story, directed by Jerry Seinfeld, now at the Cherry Lane Theater. This makes me wonder if his next show will focus on the block where he lives – I would not be surprised.
Quinn is a bundle of Unidentified Flying Objects as he stalks the stage in search of that elusive metaphor. This is one smart man who has done his history homework. The Bronx may be up and the Battery down, but they are not so far apart that Quinn cannot pull them together in this enormous bear-hug of a show.
Quinn takes us through the roughly 400 years of history – that is, the history AFTER the Dutch and British moved in to supplant the Lenape tribe living here quite happily – like a TV chef making a four course gourmet meal look easy. No one escapes his laser observations. The Lenape were shirtless guys showing off their pecs and smoking up a storm. The Dutch and the Brits were all business. In the end The Business Guys beat the pecs. The Dutch brought abrupt language that we still use today. Visitors ask polite questions. New Yorkers demand answers. The British brought sophistication and superiority that still makes us think we are the best if not the ONLY city in the world.
But the past few decades have brought Disney to all our lives. Quinn’s lament is that today’s New York is a little too perky. We have lost our swagger, our attitude. GPS on our phones stops us from asking that neighborhood guy who is always sitting on a stoop how to get to the Van Wyck when we are perilously close to the Holland Tunnel. The #7 line looks like a gondola headed for a ski lift on Saturday nights.
The Irish gave us our sarcasm as well as the backbones of New York City’s FInest and Bravest. The Italians gave us emotion. The Jews taught us how to be relentless. One by one he ticks off every ethnic group you can think of, all the while complaining (like a New Yorker) that things are too homogenized now. It’s not just the bacteria you kill in the milk, it’s the taste. Construction workers cannot yell at a woman; people at the ball park cannot call the umpire names; old women cannot yell out of their windows when the music is too loud. The Mayor speaks in hyperbole instead of off the cuff a la Ed Koch.
I am reminded of an essay by Maxwell Anderson who, as a young man, thought he had missed New York’s hey dey when he moved here. Decades later he was befriended by a young man who thought the same thing. The fact is that New York is a creature all her own. She shifts her skirts to accommodate those of us who take ourselves seriously, and then settles herself like a nesting hen when she gets tired of our lolly-gagging. Thus Quinn brings us up to date on the new influx of immigrants who are shaping New York even as we speak.
What Mr. Seinfeld did as a director is a mystery. I imagine them sitting around laughing most of the time and saying things like, “That’s good.” “Killer.” “Oh yeah.” And why there is even a set that Quinn dutifully navigates for no apparent reason is also a mystery. Ditto the projections on the back wall. This man needs no direction, no set, no nuthin’, honey.
Quinn is our very own griot. He serves up our past on a platter and hand feeds us one morsel after another, careful not to go too fast so that we don’t choke from laughing at the hot pepper of truth packed in each nugget. He is sloppy and unkempt and at times appears not to know his next line. It’s all a ruse. Colin Quinn is the guy on the corner shuffling the three cups around asking you to find the hidden nut inside. The secret is that he is not only the guy, he is the cups and most definitely the nut.
Written and performed by Colin Quinn; directed by Jerry Seinfeld; sets by Sara C. Walsh; lighting by Sarah Lurie; associate director, Kenneth Ferrone; associate producer, Marcus Levy. Presented by Mike Lavoie, Mike Berkowitz and Brian Stern. At the Cherry Lane Theater, Manhattan; 866-811-4111, cherrylanetheater.org. Through Aug. 16. Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes.