Mike Birbiglia’s The New One at The National Theatre

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It’s a shocking revelation when you’re evicted from your own life. As it turns out the well-traded promise of “a baby won’t change the way we live” is in fact, as many have suspected for years, a lie. Popping into The National Theatre of DC for just six performances, Mike Birbiglia’s The New One is a poignant and hilariously engaging telling of his experience of becoming a new father. The one-man comic show is a bit like narrative stand-up only with deeper meandering trails that dance all around the core of the story. If you’re looking for an evening of entertaining stand-up comedy with a narrative trajectory that ties up all the loose ends, The New One is the show for you.

Mike Birbiglia in The New One. Photo: Joan Marcus
Joan Marcus Mike Birbiglia in The New One. Photo: Joan Marcus

Most people don’t put much thought into recognizing the aesthetic of a stand-up comedian’s show space. But as Mike Birbiglia’s The New One is a bit like “premium stand-up comedy” rather than just open-mic night at some backroom bar of a comedy club, there is an impressive amount of thought and detail which has gone into this touring production. Scenic Designer Beowulf Boritt has taken great pains to fabricate a false back wall, mimicking that of any ordinary theatre, with exposed brick and crumbling pipes popping out of the wall. And Boritt rigs up a drop-contraption for a reveal later in the show that just gives the audience a barrel full of belly-laughs when it engages. Lighting Designer Aaron Copp keeps the show’s illumination simple; there are moments where sophisticated emotional lighting comes into play. They are few and far-between, but the service the show well. Particularly of note are Copp’s flush of red during the segment regarding Amsterdam’s red-light district, and the serene blue-white dimples and dapples of light during anecdote about the trip to the Museum of Natural History (where his wife wanted to be with the other mammals in her late-third trimester state.)  

Mike Birbiglia, as a storyteller, is engaging, simply put. There are moments when he’s a bit shouty (nothing to do with sound-balance, simply just the way he’s choosing to express an excited moment) and this feels a bit amateurish, but otherwise he possesses all the necessary tools to keep the audience enrapt in his tale as it unfolds. Birbiglia has an honest knack for comedy. He’s not just punchlines and tricks, rather his setups and punchlines flow naturally from his life experience and his natural comedic telling of these incidences and moments make this a very funny story. Birbiglia wends his way all around various and sundry details of the main focal point of his tale— the fact that he doesn’t want children and never did. There are deep-cast tangential explorations on a spelunking level that are surprisingly relevant and seamlessly woven into the narrative as Birbiglia explores them. There is also a surprising amount of heart and honesty to his story; it really does feel like an exposed experience of his life that he’s sharing with intimate friends.

The evening is a much-needed breath of relief, a light-hearted and feel-good romp of a good time that does have a few belly laughs, but it also has a few heart-felt endearing moments that just make you feel good at the end of the performance. If you need to forget about all the dark and dreariness in the world at the moment, come and see Mike Birbiglia’s The New One for an evening of being uplifted.

Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes with no intermission

Mike Birbiglia’s The New One plays through September 28, 2019 at The National Theatre— 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, DC. For tickets call the box office at 800-514-3849 or purchase them online.

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