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NY Theater Reviews

Mike Birbiglia/Ph: Joan Marcus

MAKE 'EM LAUGH

By STUART MILLER

It really doesn't matter whether it's a stand-up comedy act or a genuine work of theater. Bottom line is, it's very, very funny.

Sleepwalk With Me is comedian Mike Birbiglia's confessional story of his unusual sleeping disorder and his all-too-common issues with girlfriends and parents.

The obvious question is whether having Nathan Lane as producer and an off-Broadway stage in the Bleecker Street Theatre elevates this work from stand-up comedy to a solo play, a genuine work of theater.

The answer is both yes and no.

How many stand-up acts develop the performer's life story and character over 85 minutes or take the time out to even attempt to deal with serious personal issues like denial. Sounds like theater. Yet whenever Birbiglia approaches dramatic or emotional moments, he backs away or hurries past. The end of his relationship with a girlfriend skims by, the big revelation about the disorder causing his dangerous sleepwalking leads to a funny physical bit but minimal introspection and his breakthrough talk with his father ends with a predictable punchline. Sounds like glorified stand-up. (Indeed, a five-minute segment played like just that on Late Night With Conan O'Brien.)

Birbiglia is likable and down-to-earth, but doesn't overplay his ordinary, awkward guy persona. He does mine it for laughs: "I kept running into her," he says of winning a date with a college crush. Dramatic pause. "Because I was following her."

And in a story that ends with him leaping off a mantle in his living room, he talks about the dream in which he won third place in the Olympics for Dust Bustering, then enhances that laugh by pointing out how even in his wildest dreams he's a bit of a loser.

Maybe the question is irrelevant. Whether it's ambitious stand-up or theater that's not ambitious enough, Sleepwalk with Me is very funny, with plenty of laugh out loud moments, including an opening tirade about audiences shutting cell phones that should be recorded and played in every theater on and off-Broadway.