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The country is hopelessly divided, with liberals and conservatives bashing each other in the halls of government, the media and occasionally even in the streets. It seems an intractable situation, even to the most astute of pundits. So we might as well laugh about it, if only to ward off the feelings of despair, right? That unfortunate state of our union provides the subject matter for Colin Quinn: Red State Blue State, in which the gravelly voiced comedian dissects the current social and political climate with his usual cutting wit and keen observations. He also shows remarkable restraint, managing not to mention the name “Trump” until nearly the show’s midpoint.
Quinn, who for a while hosted Saturday Night Live‘s “Weekend Update” segments, has established a canny niche for himself with his one-man shows seen both on Broadway and off. His monologues are comedy routines, to be sure, filled with hilarious one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. But they’re also history lessons, and insightful ones at that.
Long Story Short was nothing less than a capsule history of the world; Unconstitutional served as a primer for the nation’s most important document; and The New York Story, well, that’s self-explanatory. Those shows imparted a lot of information, at least as much as a typical class in a college history course. And they were a hell of lot more entertaining.
It’s not exactly a rosy picture that Quinn paints in his new piece, which is smartly directed by Bobby Moresco. Despite the fact that America still has a lot going for it (we’re a “badass,” after all, and we’ve also got the best towels), the country seems on the verge of civil war. And it won’t be pretty, he points out: “It’ll be the first time in history you’re gonna see fat refugees.”
The comedian is an equal opportunity offender here, taking care to assail both sides of the political spectrum. He also lays out a lot of reasons why we’re in such a mess, such as the internet. “Free speech … boy, did we take that too far!” he comments, adding, “Nobody ever shuts up in this country.”
The idea of going “too far” is a recurring theme of the evening. Besides freedom of speech, Quinn argues that we’ve gone too far with such things as the Constitution, capitalism and sex. He provides solid arguments for each, observing that Tinder swiping is something that would have horrified even Caligula.
When Quinn does finally get around to skewering our current chief executive, he does so briefly but devastatingly. His imagining of how this presidency is going to end (much like the final scene in Scarface) provides the evening with one of its funniest moments.
To his credit, Quinn doesn’t just point out the problem; he also offers a solution. It’s … wait for it … to divide the country into city-states, which are better designed to handle our vastly different temperaments and beliefs. And he has the historical evidence to back it up, using Athens and Sparta in ancient Greece as examples. It’s a fairly convincing argument, especially when you consider that both Texas and California have expressed interest in seceding.
Not everything works. Quinn’s deadpan delivery can become monotonous over the course of an evening. And the show’s climactic episode, in which he skewers each of the country’s 50 states with a withering one-liner, proves hit-or-miss. But those flaws don’t prevent Red State Blue State, which will eventually be available on Audible, from being the sort of sharp political satire we can’t seem to get enough of right now.
Venue: Minetta Lane Theatre, New York
Writer-performer: Colin Quinn
Director: Bobby Moresco
Set designer: Edward T. Morris
Lighting designer: Aaron Copp
Sound designer: Sam Kusnetz
Presented by Mike Lavoie, Carlee Briglia, Brian Stern, Keith Boynton, Audible
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