by Tulis McCall

After seeing Colin Quinn in “Small Talk” at the newly (and beautifully) renovated Lucille Lortel Theatre, my friend and I went across the street for dinner at North Fork Restaurant (highly recommended).  I went over a few notes and said, “I’m glad they gave reviewers the script for this so I can check my references.” My friend looked startled and said, “There’s a SCRIPT?”  Which kind of sums up the evening.  In this latest show, Quinn seemed anything but scripted.  He appeared to be floating from thought to thought without a care as to where he was headed.

I have been watching Quinn since 2010 when I saw “Long Story Short” which took world history and shrunk it down to the size of an acorn.  Civilization began with some people growing taller than others and developed the ability to look down on people.  Then came the brain and of course we created things to do with it.  “Red State Blue State” picked the notion of superiority apart with a laser.  And “The New York Story” had to break it to us all – New York is a living being all her own, and we are guests.  With “Small Talk,” however, there is no obvious trajectory as there was in Quinn’s previous shows

Perhaps it is because the very notion of small talk becomes like a snake eating its own tail.  Small talk begets small talk, which is, by its is nature, small.

The loose premise is that small talk is a skill that people have been losing for decades, but especially since the Internet swallowed the planet.  Small talk is an important glue (like sports talk) that connects us without commitment – like ships passing in the night that signal one another just to say, “Hey.  I see you.”  The result is that we have all become fakes professing that our authentic selves are the ticket, even when we are home and crabby and wearing sweat pants for the third week in a row.

Who are we really?  Not our ID – although we bandy that phrase about all the time.  We are our browsing history.  And newsflash if the Ayatollah and OJ Simpson don’t have podcasts of their own it is certain someone is talking about them somewhere.  It was simpler in the “olden days” when females wanted males who could kill, and males wanted females who could sew.  We had it good back in the 18th century when our King was remote and the issues were the Stamp Act and tea.  Now the issues are email and coffee.

The age of computers is wreaking havoc.  Owning a computer is like being given the keys to a helicopter because we cannot handle the responsibility.  Hell we can barely walk down the street without staring at our phones instead of the traffic.  And the fact that Steve Jobs names his creation “Apple” brings us right back to the Garden of Eden from which we have not strayed all that far.

Soon Quinn’s ruminations get to the end of us as we know ourselves.  When people look back in a thousand years – what will they say.  According to Quinn, because we have jettisoned small talk, it won’t be much of an epitaph.  Just as “Small Talk” was, for me, not much of a show.

Ergo, you might not leave on an up-note.  On the other hand, you may.  We were surrounded by people laughing so hard I thought they might hurt themselves. Good for them.

The final note of utter confusion was the set by Zoë Hurvitz that initially appeared as though it would offer a road map.  Enormous panels reminiscent of old chalk boards with a variety of illustrations (mostly in chalk) that seem to feature a few points – farmers, Eve in the Garden, Socrates (?), Greek writing, and a center panel with “Persia” circled that I thought might end up guiding us through the show.  Nope.  All the panels were was a distraction.  A lot of effort put into creating something that added nothing to the show.  One thing Quinn does not need is a set. He stands on his own – and that has not changed.

Colin Quinn: Small Talk – written and performed by Colin Quinn, Directed by James Fauvell

Set design by Zoë Hurvitz, lighting design by Amina Alexander, and sound design by Margaret Montagna.

At the Lucille Lortel Theatre through February 11.  Tickets HERE