NEW YORK—In another life, comedian Colin Quinn just might have been an academic, for he has the innate ability to take a subject, state its purpose and origins in a way easy to understand, and then use what he has imparted as a springboard to multiple other issues before bringing everything back to the starting point. A case in point is his latest one-person vehicle “Small Talk,” which is exactly about that. At least at first. Written and performed by Quinn, this visceral delight of a show is now playing at at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
To hear Quinn tell it, small talk—whether encountering a stranger in an elevator, dropping off clothes at the dry cleaners, waiting with other patients at a doctor’s office, staring at someone across the negotiating table, or meeting them on the battlefield—is one of the most important aspects of communication.
Small talk is a way to break the ice, to feel the other person out, and see what common ground there might be with another person. After all, if you’re talking, you’re not trying to kill each another. At least one hopes so.
Quinn also explores the topic of “tone” in this process, as well as the concepts of ‘banter” and “agreement.” He even tosses a bit of Shakespeare into the mix.
After providing numerous small talk examples and anecdotes, including why the skill should be taught to children, Quinn ventures further afield. He ruminates on such subjects as politics, where people have been espousing the same talking points for decades, especially on how everybody is always certain they’re the ones on high moral ground.
He also points out how we all have “real” and “fake” personas, and why we prefer one over the other. Other topics addressed include global warming, gun control, abortion, immigration, taxes, and the state of the country in general. While the solutions he offers for these issues may not always be practical, one must admit that, on some level, they do have a certain sardonic sensibility.
Quinn, who can best be described as a cross between an intellectual and a gung-ho football coach, offers a take-no-prisoners attitude in his delivery.
The effect is one of wry agreement and outright laughter from the audience as his points hit home. His ultimate purpose is to illustrate the outright absurdity of the situation in question. This quickly translates to the feeling of a runway roller coaster about to jump the tracks, with no one having any idea who or what will remain to pick up the pieces.
A key thrust of the show is Quinn’s exploration of the rise of social media in all its forms, some of which he equates with the Seven Deadly Sins. He says social media is a place where “for the first time in history you can threaten people and not have to either run or have a physical confrontation.”
Quinn also notes how social media’s explosive growth, and where each of us has almost two billion personalities with us at all times via our various communication devices, has led to a serious decline in the use of small talk, as well as other social niceties, such as manners.
This leads into discussions about the cult of personality, where everyone seems to have the need to express their opinions about everything, and why certain people should never have access to a computer. Ever.
The direction by James Fauvell is sharp, letting Quinn go where his material takes him, but never allows him to linger too long on a particular topic, or let any of his more caustic comments turn into mean-spirited rants.
Taking place on a mostly bare stage, the only scenery from scenic designer Zoë Hurwitz is an intriguing group of pictures which include references to such subjects as personality, ego, and history, and which also illustrate the overall route the story is taking.
“Small Talk” looks at the state of the world, cyber and otherwise, through a prism of ironic and cynical humor. The end result is a vehicle which is quite a lot of fun. I also defy anyone not to laugh when Quinn starts talking about famous last words.
‘Colin Quinn: Small Talk’
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher St.
Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes (no intermission)
Closes: Feb. 11, 2023