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Review: MIKE BIRBIGLIA: THE OLD MAN AND THE POOL at Center Theatre Group

Review: MIKE BIRBIGLIA: THE OLD MAN AND THE POOL at Center Theatre Group

A one man show running through August 28

Mike Birbiglia is an undoubtedly remarkable storyteller. The way his latest solo show, The Old Man and the Pool, which is playing now at CTG's Mark Taper Forum, is structured is clean, snappy, clear, and concise. No loose knots are left untied and no Chekhovian guns are left unfired. Giving us a sweeping history of his medical conditions, he takes us through resonant moments of childhood, adolescence, and tender fatherhood. He never gets so heady as to impose a moral or clear lesson, and he never becomes too serious to land a visual gag.

As solo shows go, this one is remarkably unified. While Beowulf Borritt's scenic design may not add too much theatricality to the evening, the design elements remain nobly sparse. Shifts in Hana S. Kim's projections and Aaron Copp's lighting are so imperceptibly linked that it is clear the two navigated their work in intricate alignment with the other. I wish the previous solo show in CTG's season, To T or Not to T?, could have leaned into the scarcity of design elements seen in Biribiglia's piece.

What makes this a solo play worthy of such a theatrically-oriented design team and not just a stand-up comedy performance? I do not have a simple answer to the query. Perhaps it only varies in that Birbiglia gets very serious and un-funny at times, deigning to muse on mortality and the ways the world seems to work against our desires to exist in our bodies. Around me, the audience was guffawing and gasping for breath at jokes that --were they told on a streaming sit-com, TikTok, Youtube video, or really anywhere other than either a major, American regional theatre or a house of religious worship-- would have elicited only polite laughter. Certainly, the tried and true format of The Moth's story shows owe something to stand-up comedians, open mic night-goers, and slam poets, and perhaps The Old Man and the Pool leans heavily toward the stand-up influences. The show is clearly geared toward an older audience, but even with that concession, it was not as funny as the rows of people around me seemed to think. Some of the punchlines felt tired and stale. I will hazard a guess that Birbiglia's vulnerability and natural charisma have us immediately rooting for him, and it was fun seeing the performance as he was so clearly fueled by the riotous shocks of laughter echoing through the theatre. Perhaps it is his moments of sombre introspection that makes us want to laugh harder-- some element of catharsis is released as we recognize a familiar scenario played out before us. The Old Man and the Pool is maybe not a piece of theatre. And that is maybe not a bad thing.




From This Author - Andrew Child

Andrew Child is a director, designer, choreographer, and actor based on Massachusetts' south shore who has an affinity for clowns, puppets, Shakespeare, new works, multi-media creations, and community... (read more about this author)


Review: MIKE BIRBIGLIA: THE OLD MAN AND THE POOL at Center Theatre Group
August 5, 2022

Mike Birbiglia is an undoubtedly remarkable storyteller. The way his latest solo show, The Old Man and the Pool, which is playing now at CTG’s Mark Taper Forum, is structured is clean, snappy, clear, and concise.

Review: KING LIZ at The Geffen Playhouse
July 27, 2022

King Liz is the premise for a television show at best, and, despite the noble work of those who are trying to pass it off as a piece of live theatre, its plot points, the characters’ relationships, and the narrative are only strong enough to grab our interest through the next commercial break.

Review: TO T, OR NOT TO T? at Center Theatre Group
June 30, 2022

Writer and performer D’Lo exudes coolness in his purple print button down and Lakers cap, and from his first entrance, it is evident that we are present for a fully polished, fully fleshed-out tour de force evening of theatre.

BWW Review: KING JAMES at Center Theatre Group
June 14, 2022

What did our critic think? Joseph has woven an intricate veil of social commentary which haunts the two characters. King James might be a play about a Black man finding a way to advocate for himself, a white man figuring out how his access to wealth has affected him, or two friends navigating the terrors of adulthood. 

BWW Review: TAMBO & BONES at Center Theatre Group
May 12, 2022

There’s a lot going on, but the play itself lands its message within the first twenty minutes, and then bumbles through seventy more minutes of reiteration, repetition, and regurgitation.