Theater Review: MIKE BIRBIGLIA’S THE NEW ONE (Tour at The Ahmanson in Los Angeles)

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by Marc Wheeler on October 27, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


Reluctance takes center stage in Center Theater Group’s production of Mike Birbiglia’s theatrical child The New One. In his 2018 one-man show, the comedian confesses to cold feet at his wife’s suggestion of having a child. That aversion to risk unfortunately finds its way to Birbiglia’s script, as well as CTG’s decision to mount such substandard fare on The Ahmanson Theatre stage, the final stop of this post-Broadway tour.

It has an interesting premise: a wary husband gives in and embraces fatherhood — only to have many of his fears about it confirmed. That’s treacherous material fraught with possibility. Unfortunately, what emerges from such uncomfortable truths is a 90-minute sanitized stand-up act. Instead of risking a cautionary tale to younger demographics, The New One provides a comforting saga to older ones: theater subscribers — many of whom are no doubt parents — who want to be reassuringly entertained.

And in some ways, they are. Birbiglia’s routine taps into recognizable aspects of pregnancy and parenthood. Raging hormones and prenatal pretzel cravings are followed by sleepless nights and a home overrun with all things baby. While these topics are certainly relatable for parents, they hardly break new ground. Non-parents will likely find even less humor in them.

Where Birbiglia differentiates himself from his audience is in his unfortunate collection of medical diagnoses, all of which add to his long list of hesitations on becoming a parent. Cancer, Lyme disease, and Type II diabetes all have plagued him, as does a dangerous sleeping disorder that nearly took his life — a subject that became its own one-man show, the 2008 off-Broadway hit Sleepwalk with Me, which later became a book, album, and award-winning film. How he deals with this sleep disorder gives his routine some of its biggest belly laughs.

Birbiglia is an accomplished storyteller whose performances span stage, television, radio, and film. He’s also a writer, director, and bestselling author. While Birbiglia’s achievements are undeniable, so too is The New One’s commercial appeal. The show safely skirts around taboo subject matter, which is a shame, because that’s its most promising element. What happens when parenthood doesn’t change you like you had hoped? Why do fathers leave? These difficult topics often get slighted for less gutsy explorations. Fortunately, depth is found in the insightful words of Birbiglia’s wife, Jennifer Hope Stein, whose poetry is scattered throughout; “Jen” offers a contrasting perspective to parenthood that’s refreshingly honest and hopeful.

The New One doesn’t venture too far into vulgarity or off-color humor. F-bombs are sparse, as are toe-dips into topics such as masturbation, prostitution, and the Holocaust. In a cultural climate growing increasingly sensitive, it blends into its surroundings without commotion. Birbiglia’s style is mild-mannered and casual. His humor pleasant and agreeable. In fact, so commercial is this show’s aim, instead of an encore, he returns post-curtain to hawk purchases available in the lobby.

With tickets as high as $145 in a three-tiered theater with over 2,000 seats, this monologue, though intermittently charming, is largely disappointing. It’s hardly the kind of show people have come to expect from a venue whose current season includes such large-scale musicals as The Book of Mormon, Once on This Island, and 1776 (all of which are tours anyway, not homegrown productions). For a good portion, set designer Beowulf Boritt features a single stool, lit simply by Aaron Copp, on an otherwise barren stage. While director Seth Barrish’s staging eventually presents an impressive surprise, this single moment hardly necessitates such a cavernous hall for baby-sized entertainment.

The delivery here is perfectly wholesome, commercially safe comedy. It’s cautious in its confessions: asking scary questions but bubble-wrapping the answers. It neither challenges nor entertains too much. It doesn’t allow the relentlessness of parenting to overshadow its beauty. It’s as satisfying and forgettable as vanilla ice cream. An evening that evokes smiles even as it short-changes. It’s audacious in its premise but hesitant in its follow-through. The New One is ultimately a risk untaken.

photos of the Broadway production by Joan Marcus

Mike Birbiglia’s The New One
tour presented by Center Theatre Group
Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave.
ends on November 24, 2019
visit CTGfor tickets, call 213.972.4400 or

for more info, visit The New One

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