Associate New York Critic
When he walks onto stage to applause at the Cort Theatre to begin his show “The New One,” It is evident that Mike Birbiglia has a huge following and some dedicated fans. The one-man show recently transferred to Broadway after a successful off-Broadway run at The Cherry Lane Theater. Mike Birbiglia is casual, an everyman, as he proceeds to mic himself as though he is just getting ready for another day at the office. This action sets the audience on par, making them feel comfortable. This is a great introduction to his observational humor that relies mostly on the audience being able to relate to the situations he is about to expound upon. He speaks softly, in an unassuming tone, projecting a demure character, without a mean bone in his body so when his thoughts drift over to a negative perspective, there is absolution. He immediately attempts to win over his audience, to assure smooth sailing for the 90-minute show.
This works for about the first half of the standup comedy routine, which is embellished by the pseudo bare stage set design of Beowulf Boritt that is full of surprises. Mr. Birbiglia starts with a conversation about his couch, then moves onto lunch at his brother’s house where his nephew smacks him in the face with foam bat. From there he ventures into medical problems, testicular references and urologist jokes, which seem all too familiar to the males in the audience, but still seem to please the entire audience since the laughter continues. The whole concept of defending the reasons why you should not have children is where the trouble begins, and this is about the entire second half of the show. It basically runs out of steam, especially after his wife becomes pregnant and gives birth to their daughter. This is where the theatrics come to the rescue which I must say are needed but not enough to revive the rest of the evening.
Most of the humor during this section is heteronormative, almost bordering on self-pity and inclusive only of birthing parents. There is nothing wrong with this choice except for the fact that it will appeal more to a certain demographic. The humor at some point digresses not turning dark but rather almost becoming a mockery. It is no longer a story but more a routine.
Mr. Birbiglia is a very funny man. He is as normal as an abnormal person can be. He has a nice smile, a soothing voice, someone you would like to have as a best friend or a next-door neighbor, but much of the humor in this show tends not to be all inclusive. Even though it is his story, addressing what he experienced, he should look a bit further and observe what others may have encountered. A little heterogeneity would possibly reach a broader audience.
THE NEW ONE
Written by Mike Birbiglia, with additional writing by Jennifer Hope Stein, “The New One” is directed by Seth Barrish with set design for Broadway by Beowulf Boritt, lighting design by Aaron Copp, and sound design by Leon Rothenberg.
“The New One” runs at the Cort Theatre (138 West 48th Street) through Sunday January 20, 2019. Tickets are on sale through www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200. For “The New One’s” full performance schedule, please visit www.thenewone.com.
Photo: Mike Birbiglia in “The New One” on Broadway. Credit: Joan Marcus.