Stories can be delivered in many ways, from the rapid-fire method to the more roundabout approach. Comedian Mike Birbiglia can be found firmly in the latter camp, as seen in his very intimate and personable one-man show “Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” now at the Barrow Street Theatre.
Looking rather slovenly (while noting how he picked out his own clothes for the show), Birbiglia starts out recalling a life-changing incident—being involved in an auto accident—then using this as a transition to a different tale, which leads to another situation, then another and another, before finally getting back to the original point.
By this time in the show we have become so engrossed in what Birbiglia is saying, we’ve pretty much forgotten where things originally began. However when Birbiglia reminds us, it now has so much more meaning because of the very personal journey he’s taken us on.
Among the subjects Birbiglia talks about is his high school years, such as trying to become one of the “cool kids” by getting into the “make-out club,” learning never to go on a spinning carnival ride after eating too much cotton candy, peanuts, and the like (especially if you’re with a girl you want to impress), and the hook-up opportunities one has for one-night stands when you’re on the road all the time. There’s also an enjoyable diatribe as to why it’s so important to turn off one’s cell phone when going to the theater.
The main thrust of the show centers on Birbiglia’s various relationships, including one with a very special lady named Jenny. There’s the realization that people can’t choose who they fall in love with or exactly when it will happen.
Of course, there are some hiccups in any romantic situation, such as the fact that Jenny already has a boyfriend when Mike comes into the picture, and that while Mike and Jenny may agree to see other people, what is said and what is meant are often two completely different things.
This difference then leads into a discussion about the differences between men and women and how men operate on a more factual level, while women work more with feelings.
Other topics covered include the awkwardness of a first kiss and the relief when it’s over, the roundabout way one can be eased out of a relationship, and the experience of putting up a false front while trying to give the impression of being more experienced with the opposite sex than you actually are.
The show works so well because Birbiglia exudes an Everyman quality. He is someone simply trying to glide through life on the path of least resistance—something that doesn’t always happen, no matter how much we might like it to.
By the end of the performance, you feel you know him intimately and can certainly sympathize with and understand many of the personal stories and incidents related—such as his ultimate realization about what’s really important in life.
Seth Barrish’s direction works very well, setting the show guidelines loosely enough to ensure Birbiglia has free rein to move about and tell the story in a way that feels completely natural. The set (pretty much a bare stage) by Beowulf Boritt also fits in well with the context of the show, as does the lighting by Aaron Copp.
Both a love story and a somewhat belated coming-of-age tale, “Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” is realistic, pointed, funny, and ultimately very sweet in its telling.
“Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend”
Barrow Street Theatre
27 Barrow Street
Tickets: 212-868-4444 or www.smarttix.com
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Closes: May 15
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.