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Colin Quinn: Small Talk

Colin Quinn in Small Talk. (Photo: Monique Carboni)



Colin Quinn: Small Talk

By Fern Siegel


Colin Quinn is no stranger to the weird, wacky and often contradictory elements of human behavior. In fact, heís made a career of exposing our foibles, as well as our illusions. His latest one-man show, Colin Quinn: Small Talk, delivers his singular critique. †


Now off-Broadway at the historic Lucille Lortel Theater, Quinn takes on social isolation, social media, technology and the fall of man. And much of what binds us, in navigating modern life, is small talk.


ďSmall talk is intimate. Itís an acknowledgment. Itís like two ships that signal each other in the ocean. Ö Thatís small talk. Itís how we unite by common experience in under a paragraph. Because we're not robots, yet. Weíre on our way. Between phones, air pods and self-checkout, small talk is down 87%,Ē the former SNL vet laments.


Which is why he advised parents to teach their kids how to small talk, worried that preschoolers are behind the curve. ďTeach them to walk in and be like: ĎIs it me or is this bus driver a little off?í That probably gets a 90% success rate.Ē


Such advice is delivered at lightning speed in a bluff, gruff manner ó a Quinn trademark.


Charting history, he notes the various changes, including political, that necessitated and created the opportunities for small talk. And he expounds on its importance as part of our social contract, whether itís directed at our apartment neighbors or office colleagues. The connection, however seemingly trivial, is vital to bonding. Or to developing what he deems an essential trait: personality.


But for Quinn, thatís a tricky prospect.


ďPersonality is who the people that know you think you are. Your reputation is who the people who donít know you think you are. Your social-media profile is who you think you are, and your browser history is who you are.Ē


Thatís a guaranteed laugh line. Every audience member knows itís true. And truth, for Quinn, is what civilization demands, but so rarely delivers.


Thus, he embarks on an 80-minute observation and education all rolled into one.† He instructs. He challenges. He entertains. Quinn says he can teach us small talk and he can teach us banter. But we canít learn it from the internet, which he rails against in ways both humorous and telling.


In short, weíre losing our cues.


And itís spilled over into politics, which is now a steel-cage match fought online, per Quinn, by two cults: the Left and the Right. The Right is a combo of David Koresh compound meets Jimmy Buffet concert. The Left is like the Manson family. It speaks beautiful words ó truth, love, equality ó but the minute they donít get their way, itís ďkill the pigs.Ē


Hand it to Quinn, heís not afraid to challenge anyone.

Like his previous solo shows, including The New York Story, which nailed the idiosyncrasies of immigrant groups, and Red State Blue State, which took on political hypocrisy, Quinn is a master of detail. He notices the nuances of behavior ó and understands that progress is predicated on pretending to be aware of expectations, even if we fail to achieve them.

Whip smart and always funny, Small Talk is his latest foray into the absurdities of mankind. However, he would benefit from modulating his pacing. Sometimes, the lines whiz by without his taking a breath. The changes in tone and volume he advocates would be helpful here.

ZoŽ Hurvitz created the simple, effective set design; James Fauvell directed.

Small Talkís overarching message is clear: In a world that refuses to acknowledge truth or reality, Colin Quinn is a savvy, much-needed messenger. And he always leaves you wanting more.†


Colin Quinn: Small Talk, Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher St.

Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission, through Feb. 11