Deborah Howell Reviews Mike Birbigilia's "The New One"

October 29, 2019
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The creator and star of The New One, Mike Birbiglia, made his Broadway debut last fall with this hilarious and heartfelt show, so maybe you heard about that. Or maybe you know him from starring in the films Trainwreck, The Fault In Our Stars and Don’t Think Twice and Sleepwalk With Me --which he also wrote and directed. Or, if you’re a super nerd like me, you know him from the podcast This American Life, where he’s a regular contributor. (Ira Glass himself is the Executive producer of The New One.)

Or…maybe you haven’t heard of him at all.  But you should—because he’s truly a unique and stellar performer who gives you the feels in your heart of hearts while delivering big guffaws directly out of the gate--definitely something we could all use right about now. (Three sentences into his opening night performance at The Ahmanson, my friend turned to me and whispered with delight, “Thank you! Exactly what I needed!”)

Mr. Birbiglia first started working the material of this production around the experience of being a rather reluctant new father.  It was killing on stage for people of his age, but when he workshopped it at Princeton, it fell a little flatter. So he knew in order to resonate with a younger audience as well as his own contemporaries, he needed to come up with a metaphor that would bring everyone into that universe with him. So naturally, he started talking about his relationship with his….couch…instead of his daughter. Boom!  Now he was connecting with everyone. (Or at least everyone with a beloved couch.)  Henceforth, people of all ages, including yours truly, began to actually slap their knees in fits of giggles.

Birbiglia infuses his utterly unpretentious performance with poetry written by his wife/collaborator, Jen, and it’s an essential part of the piece, helping the audience understand the perspective of two different people raising a child and witnessing the same events in two completely different ways. Indeed, these sweet and searing poems make for some of the more poignant moments of the evening.

I could go on about how hard we laughed or how many times we turned to each other, mouths-agape with appreciation; or about the instant standing ovation and hearty cheers from the audience when Mike B. delivered his final touching line, but I’d rather use my 5 minutes with you to say:

Just go.  Have the best night you’ve had in memory, and walk out of the Ahmanson believing in something again: live storytelling, burnished and brash; delivered with bravery and brilliance.

In a nutshell, I give The New One the rarely achieved “Spinal Tap 11.”

Oh—and this is the absolute last stop on The New One tour, so if you love top-tier theatre, your newborn child, or you're even just your couch—it’s your last chance to treat yourself to a night of extraordinary comedy and camaraderie at the Ahmanson Theatre.

The New One holds performances through November 24th.  Tickets are available:  (But you’ll have to beat me to it, cuz I’m definitely going again)

· Online at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

· By calling Center Theatre Group Audience Services at 213.972.4400

· In person at the Center Theatre Group Box Office at The Music Center.