Monday, November 10, 2008

Sleepwalk With Mike Birbiglia

Sleepwalk With Me at the Bleecker Street Theater is a one man show, the one man being Mike Birbiglia. Mr. Birbiglia is an extremely funny guy, not to be confused with Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, the former dentist who is now President of Turkmenistan. Just to make sure you understand it's a one man show, the program lists the cast both alphabetically and in order of appearance. Most As Good As News readers already know that Mr. Birbiglia is a successful stand-up comic, and he's sleepwalking in top form. He's even funny when he asks the audience to turn off their cell phones, an exercise that takes about 5 minutes and establishes the Birbiglian variation on the Marxist dialectic - mention a topic, detour drolly on some very humorous, usually self-effacing tangents, then return to the topic - with a deadly honest point that is sometimes, but not always, deadly funny.

There's more going on here than a typical stand-up act (OK, I got the subtle signal - it's an off-broadway show produced by Nathan Lane instead of a Comedy Central special). This is a memoir centered around Mr. Birbiglia's real life problem with sleepwalking. The story meanders through his relationships with his father, the medical community, his first fiance, his wife, a La Quinta Inn, a pair of asymmetrical boobs and a climactic moment in Walla Walla, Washington- a moment that's circled for most of the show in the ultimate display of the Birbiglian dialectic.

The humor alone more than justifies the price of a ticket. Often, the story within the humor is told with compelling honesty. At times Mr. Birbiglia is cutting open an artery and spurting blood on the stage, but those comic tangents eliminate the cringe factor, the surgery is painless for the audience. I left the theater wondering about Mr. Birbiglia's life, a sure sign that the story worked on some level, but something is missing.

Beginning, middle, end - you can change the order, you can mix them together in the whirlpool of the Birbiglian dialectic, but the character needs motive to get from beginning to end. If the story is how did Mike Birbiglia get to that moment in Walla Walla, then some of the why never reached the stage.

The show does establish an inner conflict. Mr. Birbiglia has an intimidating doctor father who wants to keep everything secret, a history as a high school nerd (big deal, join the crowd), a touching story of falling in love with his first girl friend before he was ready to make a life-time commitment, a run-in with cancer. All part of what makes him funny, all part of the beginning and the middle, but not quite enough. This may be a conflicted guy who both desires and fears getting personal stuff out in the open and does not relish taking bad news head on, but he's not a paralyzed basket case. Before undertaking this show Mr. Birbiglia graduated from Georgetown and spent years successfully turning chunks of his autobiography into comedy. Why didn't he seek treatment for a sleepwalking problem so serious that he knew it endangered his own life and the lives of those closest to him? I don't know, but there is a little more to this story and Mr. Burbiglia's mother is conspicuous by her near absence.

See the show. Laughs are guaranteed. Maybe you'll spot the piece of the story I thought was missing. In any event, you will have something to ponder as your split sides are recovering.

1 comment:

mhass30 said...

Yet another Boston comic.