Can there still be any doubt that Mike Birbiglia is a true master at delivering laughs? And in the case of his hilarious solo show, The New One, now at the Cort Theatre, “delivering” is the key word, as the ultimate focus of this rollicking 80-minute diversion is Birbiglia’s not completely willing entry into parenthood.
While The New One marks Birbiglia’s Broadway debut, it has much in common with his previous Off-Broadway works. (The New One debuted earlier this year at the Cherry Lane.) As in his other solo shows, one isn’t entirely sure from the beginning what The New One is actually going to be about. Birbiglia spends the earliest sections of the show ruminating on the importance of the family couch, recounting his reactions to his visit with his “loser” brother (not coincidentally, a parent of two kids) and freely expressing his general dislike of children (especially on airplanes).
Then, as the show’s purpose becomes clearer, Birbiglia outlines – in often sidesplitting detail – his seven reasons why he shouldn’t be conceiving a child (which include some rather unusual medical conditions). That uproarious bit is followed by an even more graphic, yet wonderfully self-effacing section about his sperm’s failure to swim and the rather gruesome-sounding corrective measure needed to reverse course.
Here, as has always been true, Birbiglia’s willingness to expose his shortcomings (not physically, of course), discuss his most embarrassing moments, make slightly self-deprecating comments about his looks and behavior and, above all, espouse his very singular views on life are part of what makes him such an appealing artist.
Yet, despite his lifelong objection to parenthood, he acquiesces to his wife Jen’s desire for them to become parents. No matter your relationship status, you will undoubtedly be struck by Birbiglia’s overwhelming love for Jen (whom he calls Clo), which is why he agrees to go on this life-changing journey. As her pregnancy progresses, he helps Clo satisfy her food cravings, goes to holistic birthing classes and more. And once their daughter Oona has arrived, he eventually agrees to sleep separately to protect them from his now-famous sleepwalking disorder.
Not everything on Beuwolf Boritt’s essentially bare stage is played for laughs, though. In the show’s final section, Birbiglia expresses some deep regrets about his new lot in life – using a few decidedly unpopular words that not every audience will find to be a laughing matter. Nonetheless, thanks to Seth Barrish’s assured direction and Birbiglia’s singular charm, odds are most people will still want to be Birbiglia’s best friend by the time the show is over.
For all its belly laughs and whip-smart observations about modern-day living, The New One is essentially an age-old story about how a man can not only change his mind, but his life.