Early in his funny and poignant off-Broadway show, The New One, the comedian Mike Birbiglia expresses a low tolerance for children. “We gotta get babies off planes,” he says. “We got rid of smoking in the eighties, so we could get rid of babies now. Or bring back smoking and get those babies some cigarettes, because they’re too stressed out and they’re too powerful.”
Dealing as it does with Birbiglia’s awkward entry into fatherhood (his daughter, Oona, is three), the monologue begins as a diatribe against reproduction itself. “It’s a shocking revelation,” he says, “when you are evicted from your own life sponsored by you.” A father, he adds, is the “pudgy milk-less Vice President” of parenting: “You’re basically the intern of your own family.” (His wife’s promise that “This baby isn’t gonna change the way we live our lives” turns out to be less than true.)
Birbiglia has an easy, off-hand affect – your close friend mugging in the corner – that often succeeds in lulling his audience into complacency, the better to eventually shatter it. Here, his aw-shucks self-deprecation gradually gives way to a genuine wonder.
Birbiglia is also a skilled filmmaker (the offbeat Sleepwalk With Me and Don’t Think Twice). No surprise, then, that The New One is cinematic in its construction. He conjures imagery as if setting up shots; his visual sense is as piercing as his punchlines. Birbiglia’s shaggy-dog rhythms are so ingratiating that, with director Seth Barrish and scenic designer Beowulf Boritt, he achieves something rare in the theater – 75 minutes of one man on a (mostly) bare stage, and he still leaves you wanting more.
The New One is at the Cherry Lane Theatre through Aug. 26. James Feinberg is the writer of Boy Meets Girl, a musical playing at the New York Theater Festival, beginning on August 6.