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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, he s 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.


Small talk is intimate. It s an acknowledgment. It s like two ships that signal each other in the ocean. That s small talk. It s how we unite by common experience in under a paragraph. Because we're not robots, yet. We re on our way. Between phones, air pods and self-checkout, small talk is down 87%, 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. Teach them to walk in and be like: Is it me or is this bus driver a little off? That probably gets a 90% success rate.


Such advice is delivered at lightning speed in a bluff, gruff manner 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 it s 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, that s a tricky prospect.


Personality is who the people that know you think you are. Your reputation is who the people who don t know you think you are. Your social-media profile is who you think you are, and your browser history is who you are.


That s a guaranteed laugh line. Every audience member knows it s 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 can t learn it from the internet, which he rails against in ways both humorous and telling.


In short, we re losing our cues.


And it s 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 truth, love, equality but the minute they don t get their way, it s kill the pigs.


Hand it to Quinn, he s 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 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.

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

Small Talk s 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