Review: “The New One” at The Ahmanson

Mike Birbiglia in “The New One.” Written and performed by Birbiglia and directed by Seth Barrish. Photo: Joan Marcus

Mike Birbiglia (Sleepwalk with me, Orange is the New Black) tells his story with uncanny candor, sharing an array of gory details, from the indignities of fertility issues 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 a comment about understanding why some men leave their families.

Mike Birbiglia in “The New One.” Written and performed by Birbiglia and directed by Seth Barrish. Photo: Joan Marcus

The New One refers to a baby, the child he didn’t want to have. And he cites several good reasons why he was not interested or prepared to bring one into the world. I know that doesn’t sound all that funny, but Birbiglia, self-described as a cross between Matt Damon and Bill O’Reilly, is a masterful humorist with a knack for making the most serious subjects hilarious. Parenting, to him, is a disease, only made worse because your friends want you to have it too. And speaking of illnesses, he suffers from a bunch of ailments that he turns into a bounty of jokes that leave the audience roaring with laughter. He gets mileage from his sleepwalking problems, a cancerous bladder issue and other conditions equally serious. But even after he agrees to be a dad, problems arise with his sperm. Fortunately, he has the talent to transform this familiar subject (and even the urological procedure it requires for correction) into nonstop amusement.

Loose and friendly, he began to greet the audience before he put on his headset microphone, as if we were guests gathered to hear a story in his living room. Sometimes his voice dropped so low it was practically a whisper, and the audience leaned in, hanging on to every word. He appears more eager to put his audience at ease, to assure us that all will be well. He ends the show on a positive, heartwarming note, so that we’re literally applauding him for not leaving his wife and baby.

In lesser hands, this would be little more than an extended stand-up routine, but Birbiglia, whose most recent solo shows went on to become Netflix specials, is a fine storyteller with solid acting chops. He takes audiences on a universal journey featuring the trials and tribulations of his resistance and then efforts to become a parent as he stresses intense love for his wife, Jennifer Hope Stein, a poet credited with additional writing for the show. She says to him at one point, “A baby wouldn’t have to change the way we live our lives.” Of course, as the show makes clear, having a child, by necessity, changes everything. And audience members who nod and laugh throughout as this idea is explored are clearly recalling their own experiences in this regard—or at least have been close witnesses to others who had to make such adjustments.

The stage is bare, flanked by racks of lights with little more than a stool in the middle, but he provides a neat surprise near the end of the evening that completely changes the tone of the play. Directed by Seth Barrish (My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, All The Rage) The New One starts off with a simple point but ends up being an involving experience that will have you smiling from the very first moment to the last.

— Victor Riobo

Mike Birbiglia’s “The New One” is playing at CTGLA Ahmanson Theatre through November 24th. Get tickets HERE.