Colin Quinn contends that the U.S. constitution was obviously crafted by drunks, since the drunker you get, the more knowledge of the document you profess to have (just look at Reese Witherspoon). Appropriately, his new stand-up show, Colin Quinn Unconstitutional, plays the Barrow Street Theatre, just one block from the death site of no less a founding father than Thomas Paine. (The lot is now occupied by popular piano bar Marie's Crisis, where you can become very smart about the constitution over gimlets and showtunes.) A former bartender himself, Quinn revisits the "drunk logic" theory several times in this 70-minute lesson on government that will leave you thinking that if he were not a stand-up comedian, he could have been the coolest high school history teacher ever.
Quinn riffs on the founding document of our union in the same no-nonsense Brooklynese that he employed on Saturday Night Live in "Colin Quinn Explains the New York Times" and his 2010 Broadway show, Long Story Short. James Fauvell's no-frills set of crumbling staircases and a carriage house reinforces that tone: Quinn could just as well be delivering his monologue from a stoop in Cobble Hill…that just happens to come equipped with a lectern and cushy colonial desk set in front of it. (Dumpster diving!)
Quinn elucidates specific passages from the constitution, like the commerce clause or the full faith and credit clause as the text is projected behind him, giving proportional time to the three branches of government. He offers extended lessons on our two favorite amendments (I and II) before performing a bravura overview of the lesser known amendments in the Bill of Rights (all the rest). He laments the partisanship of American politics before adding, "We're in the village...like there's two sides."
Quinn has a remarkable ability to make his speech flow naturally, as if he's delivering it for the first time or just stumbling onto some hitherto unuttered insight. And considering how fresh the material is here — in a rant on the misplaced priorities of the press he makes note of the Bangladesh garment factory collapse and Chris Christie's lap-band surgery — it all seems quite believable: He's just making this up as he goes along.
Of course, he's not, but therein lies the craft. Quinn's observations about American society and how it has been formed by the constitution and our understanding (and misunderstanding) of it are witty and illuminating. His shrewd commentary ranks him right up there with Lewis Black and George Carlin, although he's not nearly so angry or depressing. The party may be over in America, but as long as Colin Quinn is the bartender, he'll serve us a nightcap and a few words of wisdom.
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