It's the silly season again. It happens every four years, you know that.
Every four years a number of lunatics decide they actually want to be President of the United States, a job that is not only thankless but also requires you to beg for boatloads of money and comes with the added bonus of turning you into a potential assassin’s target.
This year’s distinguishing feature, of course, is that the group of ambitious lunatics is particularly large and, one can argue, somewhat diverse. You’ve got a number of Catholics, an African American (Ben Carson), a Jew (Bernie Sanders) and, not one, but two women to go with all of those White Protestant males.
It’s fitting, then, with Donald Trump being taken seriously, that one of the finest statements about America I’ve come across recently is Colin Quinn’s one-man show "The New York Story," which concludes its run at the Cherry Lane Theatre this month and will return in October to run at the same theater through January 2016.
Quinn’s show – as well as his recently published tome "The Coloring Book" – is not really a political statement, and doesn’t exactly offer what you’d call a presidential vision of what the country should be. It is, instead, a comical look at New York’s melting pot history.
As described by Quinn, that history is messy, complicated, sometimes violent, yet always vibrant and funny. The trouble is, so few of the people who want to run for president have any interest in exploring this aspect of the American character.
The Republican candidates – all 17 of them – would have you believe we are living through the grimmest of dark ages. What exactly is so hellish about this particular moment, these candidates have a little trouble specifying.
All those new people who now have health insurance? Another 200,000 jobs created last month? The disappearance of news stories about American servicemen and women dying overseas? What a hell-hole this nation has become!
Which, of course, is not to say things are all fine and dandy. (Legionnaire’s disease? Really?)
But Quinn’s show is brilliant, in part because it acknowledges that life is, first and foremost, always going to be messy and complicated.
Quinn’s show is also an unapologetic celebration of immigration. He explores how subsequent ethnic groups – the Dutch, the Germans, the Irish, the Italians, the Puerto Ricans, etc. – changed New York and added to the city’s infamous attitude.
Of course, Quinn dabbles in more than a few stereotypes. (“Irish people can make a pub out of anything,” he writes in his chapter on the Irish, entitled “Paddy Wagon Green,” in "The Coloring Book.") But Quinn’s sentiment is often celebratory.
And it is funny that as we enter a presidential election so much of the talk is dire and grim and nasty and brutish. New York, as envisioned by Quinn, is certainly a mess, but a glorious one. Sometimes listening to these presidential candidates (especially the Republicans), you’d think we’ve been wracked by decades of Legionnaire’s disease.
I walked out of Quinn’s show onto the streets of the West Village proud that a motley, patchwork of immigrants and their children had managed to stop fighting long enough to pave the streets, erect the skyscrapers and build a great city.
Alas, even Quinn falls for a tempting bit of cynicism – that we are not what we used to be. Quinn is right; New York has changed tremendously.
Has it completely lost its heart and soul? I don’t know. New York will always reinvent itself. It may not be pretty. But it never has been. Only exciting.
And yet, even where Quinn and I disagree, he has killer lines. “There used to be five white subway stops in Brooklyn,” he quips. “Now the L train looks like a ski lift.”
Ultimately, Quinn’s show proved to be more inspiring - possibly even more patriotic – than the political candidates have been. Will that change?
Ha! Now that’s a funny question.