The audience waits with a blank stage, exposing the brick of the theater walls and framing the playing space with an array of theatrical lighting that will shift seamlessly between each new beat of the story (lighting design by Aaron Copp). Mike Birbiglia, an actor, comedian, and storyteller, who has performed several live shows (a few of which were made into movies or Netflix specials), animates the full space in The New One, playing at the Cort Theatre on Broadway.
Birbiglia is an expert storyteller and crafter of jokes. He immediately brings the audience into the space with him by telling us that before he begins his story, he wants to tell us about his couch. He then explains the progression of his relationship with his couch, from his early 20s, street-side, garbage couch find to dropping a large amount of money for his first good couch and all of the wonderful memories made on the couch in the years after. The couch unifies the audience and gives us all a point of entry into a very specific story that we may not all be able to relate to directly. The couch becomes one of the main characters of the story and we follow the shifts in narrative through the couch: how its purpose or stature transitions and how our relationship to this universally known object changes.
Birbiglia then jumps into The New One, a story about his journey from not wanting to have a child, to deciding to have a child, to having one and not knowing what to do, to realizing that there is good and joy in this “new” experience.
The couch isn’t the only punchline that returns later. Birbiglia is a master at crafting through-lines for his jokes, making the audience feel like they are in on it, that there is an inside joke within the theater that anyone who hasn’t been following the story wouldn’t understand. In this way, Birbiglia is crafting a deeper relationship and trust with the audience; we travel with him as he teeters on the line and are more forgiving and understanding if our line for humor is ever crossed. At the end of the day, Birbiglia allows us all to laugh at him as we relate to him, remaining (for the most part) the butt of all of his own jokes.
Most of the jokes within this show were solidly on the good side of my line, however, there reached a point towards the end of the piece where the joke of how awful children are reached a potentially polarizing place for the audience – those who don’t want children continued to laugh while those who did might have felt alienated, however, quickly, the story resolved itself into finding joy in this “new” experience, and the audience left the theater with more hope than remorse or fear.
In this time of political divide and tension, it was refreshing to laugh with an entire theatre of people about the troubles and aches of a universally human conundrum. The piece acknowledged our current social and political landscape, but didn’t inspect it or rely on it for the laughs, which led to a refreshing evening of laughter-as-medicine. The audience connected with those around them as we laughed together about what it means to have (or not have) children.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
What the popular press says...
"If Mike Birbiglia were a piece of furniture, he would surely be a well-worn, deeply stained, slightly squishy couch, much like the one he describes at the beginning of The New One, his winning Broadway debut at the Cort Theater. That may not sound like a flattering comparison. But Mr. Birbiglia has great respect and affection for this kind of sofa, and so should you. As he explains in this one-man show, which opened on Sunday night under the seamless direction of Seth Barrish, a couch is “a deceptively simple piece of technology.” It is, to be precise, “a bed that hugs you.” And in delivering that deceptively simple classification, Mr. Birbiglia’s voice becomes a low, wraparound, pleasure-drenched caress. This somnolent sound makes you feel both relaxed and attentive, drowsy and giddy. And somehow an expensive night with a lone comedian starts to feel like a better bargain than bingeing and chilling at home."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Humor is, as someone once said, a reminder that no matter how high the throne one sits on, one sits on one's bottom. And that would be a perfect way to describe Mike Birbiglia's solo show "The New One." Getting right down to the bottom of things - literally and figuratively - is Birbiglia's great talent."
Roma Torre for NY1
"In the last decade, Mike Birbiglia has emerged as one of America’s most gifted comedians and monologists, bringing his brand of suburban self-deprecation and Everydude wit to shows like Sleepwalk With Me and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. And now Birbiglia has brought his latest routine, aptly titled The New One, to Broadway, where he settles into a much larger space with the same slackerly geniality that has served him well in smaller venues."
Thom Geier for The Wrap
"When is a standup routine not a standup routine, but a legitimate play? Partly when it comes with theatrical trappings like a thoughtful set, subtle lighting and sound effects. (Give a pass to the everyday button-down shirt and khakis.) But mostly it goes legit when it puts a singular character through an arc of experience, leaving him and us different at the end than when the story began. On those terms, Mike Birbiglia's The New One, transferred from a sold-out downtown engagement to a limited Broadway one, qualifies as a real play — a brimmingly warm, entertaining one on a universally relatable topic. Birbiglia goes through a life-changing journey; there are surprises and one coup de theatre along the way; and he is most certainly a singular character."
Bob Verini for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...