For 90 minutes in front of a full house at the Ahmanson Theatre, Mike Birbiliglia opens up about his relationship, his self-doubts and how much he loves his couch. The storyteller is known for his comedy, writing, contributions to “This American Life” and the independent feature film, “Sleepwalk With Me.” His one-man show, “The New One,” directed by Seth Barrish, surprises with moments of sincerity and keeps the audience roaring with laughter.
Birbiglia enters the stage, empty except for a large rug and wooden stool, to remind the audience to turn off their phones. After the whole room settles, Birbiglia warns, “I’m gonna tell you a story, just one.” And he does. He goes on to tell the story of his daughter, Una. Spoiler, she’s ‘the new one.’ The autobiographical play creates a language of its own: it introduces us to inside jokes and creates a self-referential dialogue that makes us feel connected to Birbiglia’s life. His brilliance as a storyteller is how he manages to craft the million little stories he ends up sharing into one, very funny journey.
The casual style makes the whole show feel like a conversation with a friend; Birbiglia riffs on the happenings of life with a goofy self-deprecation. He finds power in his own meekness. Of the seven reasons he gives for not wanting kids, most have to do with his own low opinion of himself; he sees no reason why there should be more of him. When others have kids, he likens it to a sickness worse than a disease, because they want you to be infected. Inevitably, he loses the battle and ends up conceiving a child with his wife. He shares all details of the process: from the glories of sex without a condom to the absolute useless feeling of watching his wife give birth.
Birbiglia knows his audience. He received raucous applause after asserting that, “women are smarter.” He then segues immediately from bits about how ineffective men are as a gender to relating honest and painful moments he shares with his wife. He talks about how hard she works to raise their daughter, how much she takes care of him, and snippets of the poetry she writes for their child. In these moments, the audience goes silent. They lean forward and buy into the absolute humor, chaos and love in this man’s life.
Birbiglia shares the fears that control his life, not shamelessly, but as truthfully as they affect him. The sort of simple honesty that drives the show is what makes it so effective. Under Barrish’s direction, the show reaches moments of darkness without losing the humor and finds the love without giving up self-awareness. After listening to Birbiglia talk a lot about pain throughout the show, the hopeful ending feels well earned. It’s an ode to women, to men who do their best and to the joy we should pursue in our own lives.
“The New One” runs now through Nov. 24, 2019 at the Ahmanson Theatre. For more information, click here.