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Colin Quinn: Small Talk

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - January 23, 2023

Colin Quinn
Photo by Monique Carboni
Colin Quinn is as mellow a stand-up comic as they come, a more genial, less cranky version of, say, Jerry Seinfeld, who directed Quinn's The New York Story at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 2015, with whom he shares an interest in the quirks of the mundane. Quinn comes across like the neighbor in your apartment building who, if you run into him in the hallway or the laundry room, will happily engage you in small talk. Which just happens to be the name of his latest show, Colin Quinn: Small Talk, opening tonight at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Spending an hour or so with the former "Saturday Night Live" Weekend Update anchor is like discovering that chatting with the person seated next to you on the plane is actually a pleasant way to pass the time. You're not likely to exchange email addresses or phone numbers, but it's better than being absorbed in your own churning thoughts during the hop from LaGuardia to Dulles.

Colin Quinn: Small Talk, directed by James Fauvell, is a compendium of loosely connected bits about what its title suggests, the dying art of small talk and chit-chat as a sort of social glue, or, as Quinn puts it, "how we unite by common experience in under a paragraph." Or, rather, it's about how we fail to unite, which, as much as anything, is the theme of this shaggy dog story of a performance. In it, Quinn comes across like the older guy (he's 63; decide for yourself if you consider that to be "older") who is constantly puzzled by the proliferation of post-Millennials tied to their phones and social media and their apparent lack of fluency in the rules of engagement with actual people.

"I get in the elevator," he says by way of an example, "and I go, 'Boy, this weather's crazy.' And one young guy goes 'Hey, it's the weather. What's so crazy about it?'" Quinn's (presumably) unspoken response: "I expect you not to violate the social contract and disagree with obvious small talk."

As a comic, Quinn has made a low-key niche for himself by taking the format of a comedy club set and moving it into a theatrical space. In making the transition, he is not big on the kind of form you might see in a more carefully structured performance by comics like Mike Birbiglia, who shapes his shows from autobiographical material, or by one of John Leguizamo's carefully scripted productions. While Zoë Hurwitz's set design of overlapping chalk boards covered in sketches, connecting arrows, and Greek phrases suggests we are about to embark on an in-depth philosophic lecture of the sort that might underpin a Leguizamo show, we are not.

Quinn is nothing if not authentically himself. His act is his act, no matter where it plays out, and it tends to bring out fewer guffaws and more smiles, chuckles, and short bursts of laughter. In a sense, it harkens back to his SNL days which he acknowledges by devoting a few moments to the late Norm Macdonald, his old pal from that show. And as much as Quinn appears to enjoy performing for an audience, he often seems to be musing aloud for his own benefit, maybe mellowed out by the heart attack he suffered five years ago. We just happen to be out there listening in as he wonders about the long-term legacy of this nation, or about whether we should open up a "small talk museum," where future generations can go to learn what it was like to carry on a simple conversation. In that respect, Colin Quinn: Small Talk lives up to the promise of its title.

Colin Quinn: Small Talk
Through February 11, 2023
Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, New York
Tickets online and current performance schedule: