Colin Quinn, familiar toMTV viewers as the sidekick on the gameshow spoof “Remote Control,” makes an impressive stage debut with “Sanctifying Grace,” a funny, resonant monologue co-written with Lou Di Maggio, in which the actor portrays a handful of people from the Brooklyn Irish neighborhood he grew up in. The central figure is “Fats,” who admits to an unseen priest as he steps into the crisscrossed light of a confessional that it’s been 17 years since his last visit, a jumping-off point for a tour of old haunts and memorable characters set mostly in the 1970s.
To the extent that Quinn skillfully evokes a wide range of types to tell what’s basically a coming-of-age tale, the obvious parallels are with John Leguizamo and Eric Bogosian, and like them, Quinn has HBO on his side, though plans for this show are uncertain. Looking like a young Danny Aiello, the beefy actor engages in none of the histrionics that the genre has spawned; he’s neither wildly flamboyant, like Leguizamo, nor in-your-face, like Bogosian. In a performance of spare gestures and raspingly dry delivery, Quinn adds slowly and subtly to his canvas until his portrait is complete, and the considerable humor seems merely a veil over considerable loss and pain.
For Jimmy, a garden-variety boor who has the hourly wages of civil servants committed to memory, childhood is recalled as a continual punishment, usually meted out to a younger brother who suffered frostbite, deafness and other tortures at the hands of their father.
Marriage –“you saw a girl sitting on a stoop, you went around the block, and if she was still there you married her”– is a dead-end cycle of “silence, violence and bad sex,” while grown-up friendship is marked as often by betrayal as by love. Most wounding is the dreamless emotional landscape they all inhabit: As Margaret, the sole woman Quinn conjures, says, “We didn’t go after what we wanted, we went after what was left.” The result is narrow, mean lives constrained by boredom and typically wrecked by drugs and alcohol.
The script sometimes reaches — a couple of malapropisms, undoubtedly lifted verbatim, nonetheless ring false, and, similarly, some of the storytelling is too contrived. Nevertheless, Quinn warms to Robert Moresco’s admirably simple staging (with able assists from Mauricio Saavedra Pefaur’s lighting and Susanne Coghlin’s cos-tumes), and the performance grows on you. And notwithstanding the darkness at its core, “Sanctifying Grace” is very funny. It’s a natural candidate for a cable special, and one hopes to see Quinn on other stages soon.