REVIEW: Colin Quinn explores cultural history of New York in new one-man show

Colin Quinn New York Story plays the Cherry Lane Theatre through Jan. 31. Photo courtesy of Mike Lavoie.
Colin Quinn New York Story plays the Cherry Lane Theatre through Jan. 31. Photo courtesy of Mike Lavoie.

NEW YORK — Colin Quinn, the comedian known for Saturday Night Live and Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, has focused in recent years on a string of comedic monologues performed on the stages of New York City, his hometown. His frequent collaborator for these one-man shows is Jerry Seinfeld. Although his humorous take on world history, Long Story Short, which played Broadway a few years ago, offered many laughs and biting commentary, Quinn is unable to capture the same energy with his latest work, Colin Quinn New York Story, currently playing the Cherry Lane Theatre in the West Village.

For this latest monologue, Quinn travels down memory lane for approximately 65 minutes. He tries to recreate the history of multiculturalism in his hometown, from its Native American origins to the Dutch’s New Amsterdam settlement to its more recent diversity. Once the narrative hits the latter part of the 20th century, Quinn offers scenes from his childhood growing up in Brooklyn.

The comedian paints these cultural portraits to the backdrop of a set that looks like a (stereo)typical New York City neighborhood. There’s a walkup stoop and the clothes hanging from a line. Projections in the background offer some visual reminders as well.

Throughout the show, Quinn is able to earn some laughs from the audience. The comedy comes less from his attempts at accents and more from the scenes he’s able to illustrate. There’s one sequence that details what happens when someone is lost in New York City and has to ask for directions

The problem is that Quinn paints with too broad of a brush and can never take his comedic piece beyond the stereotyping. Many cultural groups are discussed, but the comedian only treats their “New York story” from a distance, offering generalizations and quick overviews. The piece moves so quickly that no culture receives more than a few words, and with no genuine commentary beyond these self-described, politically incorrect remarks, it’s hard to absorb the theatrical work. Quinn’s delivery style, which has always been rushed and nonstop, doesn’t help either.

Colin Quinn's new monologue offers commentary on New York City's multicultural roots. Photo courtesy of Mike Lavoie.
Colin Quinn’s new monologue offers commentary on New York City’s multicultural roots. Photo courtesy of Mike Lavoie.

Quinn’s thesis is that New York City has a harsh attitude that sets it apart from the rest of the world. From pizza pride and bagel envy to harsh welcomes for newcomers, the city that never sleeps is a city Quinn loves for its collective disregard for manners and the many stories that populate the streets in each neighborhood. His recitations are always performed tongue in cheek; as he explore identities, he does attempt to find similarities and linkages to the many ethnic groups that make the Big Apple multiethnic. But, again, the commentary is thin, leaving the audience with a string of jokes on stereotypes.

Seinfeld, who directed the piece, has Quinn begin is monologue on the stoop, move to the center of the stage, move left to a couple of crates and then back again. There’s not much inspiration. Projections on the brick wall of the Cherry Lane Theatre allow the audience to follow along visually with whatever cultural background Quinn is discussing.

One theme that permeates the monologue is sadness, that the New York of Quinn’s childhood and from the history books is largely gone. Gentrification has caused neighborhoods to change, and, in Quinn’s mind, political correctness has taken away some of New York’s identity and edge. However, with only these brief, stereotypical images to prove his point, Quinn, well, doesn’t prove his point. He trips up on trying to connect the multiculturalism of newly arrived immigrants to the American story. Essentially Quinn is exploring the time-old struggle of standing out but fitting in, holding on to one’s culture but adding elements of the great American experiment. There’s enough examples in the city’s history for a real New York Story, but Quinn still hasn’t found them.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Colin Quinn New York Story
  • By Colin Quinn
  • Directed by Jerry Seinfeld
  • Starring Quinn
  • Running time: 65 minutes
  • Currently playing the Cherry Lane Theatre at 38 Commerce St. in Manhattan, N.Y. Click here for more information on tickets.
  • Rating: ★★☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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