Make room for daddy. That, in a nutshell, is the story beating at the heart of comedian Mike Birbiglia’s solo Broadway show The New One, which opened Nov. 11 at the Cort Theatre following a summer run downtown at the Cherry Lane. During the production’s 80 unbroken minutes he recalls his reluctance to make space in his life for fatherhood – and the deep impact of the birth of his daughter.
Sounds hilarious, no? Frankly, it seems better suited to a session (or a few of them) with a family therapist rather than a performance in front of an audience. But anyone who’s seen Birbiglia go it alone on stage knows that he has an uncanny knack for spinning private discomfort into disarming, delightfully laugh-packed yarns. He has done it before covering his life-threatening shuteye disorder (Sleepwalk with Me), romantic disasters (My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend) and misjudged stand-up (Thank God for Jokes).
He does it again in this often jokey and sometimes jagged take on paternity. Performing on a bare stage, he summons his usual narrative building blocks: self-deprecation, plot detours and roundabouts, fine-tuned zingers, and periodic utterances of “I know” acknowledging that he knows that what he’s saying sounds nutty.
Early musings about how much he loves his couch and performing in places so dinky they’re not actually cities but “an Applebee’s with a dream” amount to priming the pump. Eventually he gets to the point and recalls how he and his wife had been on the same page about not wanting to have kids. But after she changed her mind, he acquiesced, assured by her that nothing would change. Then came indignities of fertility testing and the physical pain of surgical procedure. “For eight days,” he winces, “I walked around New York City like a cowboy in snow.” And after baby arrived, he was left feeling like a third wheel.
Birbiglia’s self-awareness and smarts keep the show from sinking into an annoying pity party, though he has an irritating habit of shouting too much. And while the material isn’t exactly earth-shattering, it’s always engaging and sometimes startling.
Aside from a visual surprise, director Seth Barrish’s staging is a no-fuss affair. A couple of light cues help set a couple of scenes. After all, in The New One, as in the old ones, Birbiglia’s likability and ace storytelling are their own special effects.