You may not know it by looking at him, but Mike Birbiglia has issues.
The comedian, writer, filmmaker and NPR darling specializes in turning his personal problems and family foibles into funny and endearing stage shows. This month, the Brooklyn-based performer is back in the Bay Area for a limited-run engagement of his new one-man-show, Mike Birbiglia: The Old Man and The Pool, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
Birbiglia burst onto the national scene a decade ago with his solo show Sleepwalk With Me, which he turned into his feature-film debut in 2012. That show and film chronicled Birbiglia’s early days of standup comedy, particularly an incident in which he jumped out of a second-story window while sleepwalking. Today, he sleeps in a sleeping bag with mittens on his hands so he can’t get out while he sleeps.
During the last decade, Birbiglia’s other shows, including My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend and Thank God For Jokes, enjoyed successful off-Broadway runs. His last show, The New One, moved to Broadway where he received the Drama Desk Award for outstanding solo performance.
Birbiglia quickly shares the sleepwalking story and dives into other tales from his life in The Old Man and the Pool, deftly mining laughs from heavy topics. Despite the serious content, especially talk about his own fear of dying, this is one of Birbiglia’s funniest shows yet. His understated acerbic wit comes through in his descriptions of the Brooklyn YMCA, where he takes up swimming, and in relating family gatherings and reliving arguments with doctors.
Performing the show in Berkeley Rep’s intimate Roda Theatre, Birbiglia keeps the set design to a minimum—a small chair, table and lamp, and a blue backdrop that gives the show an underwater feel. Birbiglia makes use of the whole stage to act out many of his stories.
The Old Man and the Pool has been in the works for three years, and this run is the first time audiences are seeing it fully formed. In a statement, Birbiglia remarks, “The Bay Area has smart, theatre-savvy audiences, and when an artist is creating new work that’s what they crave most. I debuted The New One at Berkeley Rep in 2017, and that show went all the way to Broadway. So maybe Berkeley has some kind of secret magical energy? It seems that way.”