There will be no spoilers here about how all this works out, but the tone and pitch of the comedy changes dramatically toward the end of the 90 minutes. It has to; one of Birbiglia's final revelations is that his new life means he now laughs in a new way himself. You think you could stay there even longer. Birbiglia is the kind of ribald, engaging storyteller you never want to stop.
MIKE BIRBIGLIA'S THE NEW ONE Broadway Reviews
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Mr. Birbiglia - who came to national attention with the stage and film versions of "Sleepwalk With Me," an autobiographical account of his dangerous nights with a sleep disorder - seems not only to occupy but also to absorb and transmute every inch of the Cort's naked stage. (Appropriately, there's more to Beowulf Boritt's bare set than first meets the eye.) He achieves this partly by pacing, pacing as he talks, in ever-widening circles and diagonals and loop-de-loops.
With material this personal, it's hard not to wonder what it must be like for standups to make their way through life knowing that every moment is potential fodder for material. How do they react and cope in the now, while storing up future impressions and maintaining aesthetic distance? This Pirandellian balancing act, known to all creative types but especially tricky for the comic, might well be the subject of another incisive play. Take it away, Mike.
When Birbiglia runs down a numbered list of his arguments against having kids, most revolve around his own insecurities and suspected shortcomings as a dad. "If we're being honest with ourselves, kids hold us back," he says, before edging into more charged waters. "My best example of this is the history of women." This is just one of the outrageous, did-he-just-say-that? shockers that Birbiglia laces into his routine - one that he quickly walks back with a convoluted explanation about how "women are smarter than men, their brains are more sophisticated, and they make 21 cents on the dollar ... How did this HAPPEN!? The answer is...children."
Similarly to his previous work (such as "Sleepwalk With Me") Birbiglia relies upon a well-honed "nice guy" persona. In doing so, he comes off as heartfelt and relatable - not so different from any given audience member who is figuring out life as it goes along. There is an appealing smoothness and simplicity to his shows, which tend to be autobiographical in nature. Birbiglia excels at offering fun anecdotes, dramatizing conversations with offstage characters, making Seinfeld-style observations about daily life and performing occasional physical bits.
But the biggest surprise is Birbiglia's ability to fill the stage with little more than the wit and wisdom of someone who understands that humor is the bitterest truth refusing to take itself seriously.
Directed by Seth Barrish, Birbiglia tells the story as if for the first time, sharing a litany of gory details, from the indignities of fertility issues (he actually brought his urologists on Jimmy Kimmel) to the ramifications of the expectant mom's raging hormones. Along the way, he dispenses with the hilarity and sneaks in some valid concerns about bringing a child into a world of rising sea levels and environmental neglects, along with one infuriating (to me, anyway) comment about understanding why some men leave.
The emotional heart of The New One, though, beats loudest after the actual new one arrives, and Birbiglia's physical isolation becomes a metaphor for his emotional distance from mother and daughter. To say he's not particularly good at sharing or dealing with isolation is an understatement, and leads to one of the play's two most startling moments (the one that's not the before & after visual change-up, which, again, I won't spoil except to applaud set designer Beowulf Boritt).
A little bit of both! But, yes, I did like it. The comedy was super-strong. Lots of different types of jokes, expertly crafted. I probably say this after all of his shows, but it's the funniest one yet. More than anything, though, I was most impressed by how it's structured.
Under Seth Barrish's direction, THE NEW ONE keeps a steady, casual tone consistent with Birbiglia's genial, nice-guy persona. The 80-minute piece is very funny on a sweet, realistic level. The only moment of shear theatricality, a really good one, comes from set designer Beowulf Boritt. I'll leave it to the storytellers to present you with that one.