Hey, What’s New? “Colin Quinn: Small Talk”

There is some practical insight in “Colin Quinn: Small Talk,” the actor/comic/writer’s solo standup gig at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in the West Village. Who knew, for example, that the key word in a successful small talk exchange is ‘yes,’ and that people who nod yes earn $40,000 more than people who shake no.

Quinn’s background includes writing for and appearing on SNL (1995-2000) and anchoring that show’s Weekend Update. Since then, he has become an off-Broadway stalwart, showcasing self-written and performed commentaries that range from zeroing in on a particular topic (the U.S. Constitution) to limitless fantasy (the history of the entire world). “Small Talk,” his eighth such outing, falls somewhere between.

Colin Quinn [Photos: Monique Carboni]

In the tradition of Jerry Seinfeld, who directed two of his previous pieces (including “Long Story Short,” on Broadway in 2010), Quinn has the intuition to spin ordinary topics and situations into comic gold – to make something out of, if not nothing, very little. Built around the ubiquity of tossed-off interactions that he likens to the horn-blowing of passing ships merely acknowledging each other, “Small Talk” makes hay out of instantly understood shorthand, opening at my performance with “Tuesday night in New York, right?”

But the exchange of ice-breaking small talk, he says, is a dying art, with young people no longer schooled in the form. Between dependence on smart phones and earbuds, “small talk is down 87 percent.” (In my apartment building, at least half of the ride-sharers are on their phones, eliminating the minor pleasures of remarks about the weather or the new lobby furniture.)

Somewhat ironically, Quinn’s monologue is most interesting in the half where he digresses from the title topic. A riff on iPhones points out that while Bill Gates developed an educational and work tool (turn off the computer when you leave the office), Seve Jobs put one in everyone’s pocket, to figure out on their own. Why not give everyone a helicopter pilot license on the same basis? On the ubiquity of McDonald’s: two hundred years from now the Golden Arches will be perceived as having been symbols of our religion; in fact, he suggests, maybe the pyramids were the Egyptians’ fast food joints. (Not exactly a knee-slapper, but representative of the overall content.)

However bright and incisive he may be, Quinn does not help himself by his presentation.  Delivered in what we’ll call Rapid-Speak, “Small Talk,” noted in press releases and other sources as running 70 minutes, ran an hour flat on my Tuesday night. That he might have cut some material does not mitigate the fact that he talks – small or other – too damn fast. Combined with holding a cordless microphone right at his lips, a portion of his material is indistinct, a lament shared by my companion and another random attendee. Gaffes like that are why objective-eyed directors are so important to solo shows. Here, James Fauvell (and sound designer Margaret Montagna) fail both performer and audience in not alerting Quinn to simple adjustments. (I do not recall the same problem with his Seinfeld-directed pieces.)

Notwithstanding that flaw, the man gets a warm reception, even very casually dressed in jeans and untucked shirt, like, he points out, a twelve-year-old boy. Why not, Colin; that’s the audience dress code too.

Through February 11 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street, NYC. For Mon-Sat performance schedule and tickets ($49-$59): www.colinquinnshow.com  


Set Sail Aboard Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore”

Most full-scale musical shows run several weeks of previews before submitting to critical evaluation; some even longer, with mixed results (cue “Spiderman”). The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP) production of “H.M.S. Pinafore” opened cold last week and hit its stride in about ten minutes. The venerable company, founded in 1974 by Albert Bergeret, who still directs and conducts (including this one), maintains a performance-ready repertory of the thirteen surviving Savoy Operas created by the namesake team. (A couple more were never published.) While some of the more familiar titles dominate the roster, all thirteen are intermittently staged in NYC and on tour.

True to their founding mission of “giving vitality to the…legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan through performance and education,” NYGASP is recognized as the Gold Standard of Gilbert & Sullivan production companies, exemplified by the company’s widely acclaimed US and Canadian tours as well as their lauded appearances at G & S Festivals in England.

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players aboard the “H.M.S. Pinafore” [Photos: Danny Bristoll]

Continue reading

Blog, NY Theater, Off Broadway

“The Journey of Jazz” Is a Syncopated Pleasure Trip

It is an unusual opening number for an orchestral jazz concert/revue: a strikingly evocative solo rendition of the legendary Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.”  Even more unusual, the wonderful pianist, Dalton Ridenhour, who has been channeling Joplin since age nine, is not the nominal ‘star’ of the proceedings. That status belongs to identical-twin musician-brothers Peter and Will Anderson, who conceived, directed and are producers of “The Journey of Jazz,” running through December 11 at 59E59 Theater A.

Will Anderson on clarinet and Peter Anderson, saxophone [Photos:Geri Reichgut]

Continue reading

Blog, NY Theater, Off Broadway

This “& Juliet” Is No Tale of Woe

You need not be closely familiar with William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” or with his personal life to enjoy “& Juliet.” References to both are deployed liberally throughout, but the Broadway show is a musical and visual delight on its own. (Among the tidbits you may never have considered, Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife, is not happy with the bequest of his “second best bed.” Her name also takes a hit.)

Lorna Courtney is Juliet (no & about it) [Photos: Mathew Murphy]

Continue reading

Blog, Broadway, NY Theater

Sandra’s Quest Comes Up Short

A “Shaggy Dog” story is one with a high-stakes build-up and much activity that comes to an anti-climactic conclusion, like an elongated joke with an unfunny punchline. A serious shaggy dog story might involve an intricate quest or goal or a mystery that ends abruptly with added information, uncharacteristic behavior, or an unlikely development. David Cale’s one-woman “Sandra,” running through December 11 at the Vineyard Theatre, is a shaggy dog play.

Most solo pieces are autobiographical, a la Gabriel Byrne’s and Mike Birbiglia’s current efforts. Some, though, are fictions, related in the first person for dramatic purposes. “Sandra” is one of those, in which the eponymous narrator (Marjan Neshat), spins a complex yarn about searching for her friend Ethan, who went missing on a pleasure trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Sandra (Marjan Neshat), seated. [Photos: Carol Rosegg]

Continue reading

Broadway, Off Broadway

Jump In the Pool with Mike Birbiglia

My first Mike Birbiglia show was “Sleepwalk with Me” in 2008 at the Bleecker Street Theater, where some of the 199 seats were behind poles. The 80-minute self-written monologue recounted how his Rapid Eye Movement Sleep Behavior Disorder had resulted in him crashing through a second-story window of a Walla Walla motel. You could tell by his detailed, self-effacing delivery that it was all true. And it was very funny. My next sighting was “The New One” in 2017, about becoming a first-time father. Its sold-out run at the small-capacity Cherry Lane led to a Broadway transfer, where it ran for three months at The Cort Theater (recently re-named for James Earl Jones).

Both those shows were well received (the NY Times called “Sleepwalk” “simply perfect”), but neither was as insightful, as smartly written and sharply delivered or as devastatingly funny as is “The Old Man & the Pool,” running through January 15 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, a prestigious venue Mr. Birbiglia well deserves.

Mike Birbiglia [Photos: Emilio Madrid]

Continue reading

Blog, Broadway, NY Theater