Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sleepwalk With Me


By Mike Birbiglia. Dir. Seth Barrish. Bleecker Street Theater. Through June 7.

Extended standup act or poignant solo show? Most critics were laughing too hard to care, hailing writer/performer Mike Birbiglia's unassuming-like-a-fox persona and offhanded delivery of material on subjects you wouldn't think of as comic fodder, including his own life-threatening sleep disorder. Even critics who weren't entirely won over were more or less charmed.

The New York Times A
(Neil Genzlinger) An 85-minute monologue lives or dies on the pacing. It’s easy to peak too early or drown in detail or lose your audience in a dead spot or a poorly structured story. Mike Birbiglia’s pacing is simply perfect...Like any good monologue, this one is about more than what it’s about...If some of [his] detours feel as if they might really just be excuses to work in material from his stand-up routine, they’re never less than rewarding. The laughter comes early and often.

Associated Press A
(Peter Santilli) The laughs continue at a constant pace in this thoroughly delightful, autobiographical sketch about life as a struggling comic with a potentially dangerous sleep disorder...The eminently likable, 30-year-old comedian spins a self-deprecating account of awkwardness, procrastination and insecurity in the face of some of life's most serious realities...It gradually becomes clear Sleepwalk With Me is something greater than simply good standup comedy. Birbiglia displays an uncanny ability to be hilarious, terrifying and poignant—all in the same breath.

Backstage A
(Andy Propst) Birbiglia spins his tale with ease, filling it with digressions and shrewd insights...His timing is impeccable, and his ability to underline a moment with a carefully constructed zinger often creates some of the evening's most satisfying laughs. Eventually some of the digressions become almost leitmotifs in the script, and by framing the piece with stories about his father, Birbiglia does indeed create the sense of a complete arc. Working under the sure hand of director Seth Barrish on a reflective blue set from Beowulf Borritt...Birbiglia delivers his piece with some choice physical gags, winning not only laughs but also hearts.

Variety A-
(Sam Thielman) Birbiglia stays on the light side even when his stories become painful and unhappy. And that, really, is the key to the act. Birbiglia's delivery is terrific...But his writing is deceptively clever, keeping salient points at the forefront as the show moves forward. This technique doesn't always work to Birbiglia's advantage: Sleepwalk With Me ends too abruptly, and some of the jokes are less interesting than the story at its center. But with so much to recommend the show, these reservations feel stingy.

New York Post A-
(Frank Scheck) This solo piece...almost completely erases the already blurry line between confessional monologue and stand-up comedy...The appealingly rumpled, Everyman-like comic...infuses his stories with enough one-liners, delivered with perfect timing, to make its potentially melodramatic tale go down easily...At times, the stand-up roots show through too blatantly. But under Seth Barrish's capable direction, Birbiglia manages to pull the thematic elements...People often say they don't know whether to laugh or to cry, but at "Sleepwalk With Me," the choice is easy. You'll do both.

Theatermania A-
(David Finkle) An 80-minute grinathon that is delivered with the sunniest good humor, under Seth Barrish's unprepossessing direction...[Birbiglia] recalls Woody Allen's nebbishy persona, Steven Wright's cerebral musings, and even the manner in which Sam Levenson giggled at his own jokes. I wouldn't sleepwalk with Birbiglia through a hotel window; but, having seen this show, I would gladly follow him everywhere else.

Talkin' Broadway B+
(Matthew Murray) Birbiglia is an Everyman so bursting with guy-next-door affability, you wonder how he can stand to be onstage at all...But his personality is so completely entwined with his effortlessly uncomfortable delivery, he becomes irresistible in spite of himself...This is a performer who can make any subject into a riff on anything...Embracing his ingratiating idiosyncrasies in a legitimate theatrical venue unfortunately involves looking past a rather thick catalog of faults that would instantly torpedo anyone less funny...Director Seth Barrish keeps him as disciplined as possible, but is ultimately just corralling chaos.

Time Out NY C+
(Raven Snook) When the self-deprecating funnyman sticks to his main subject...his anecdotes are so hilarious and horrifying they just may keep you up at night...He is a truly gifted performer; the guy consistently gets laughs just by saying “yeah” and “I know.” As a playwright, however, he’s got a way to go...As an extended comedy act, Sleepwalk with Me is tremendously entertaining. But if Birbiglia wants the show to become a full-fledged theater piece, he’s going to have to sleep on it.

The New York Times A 13; Associated Press A 13; Backstage A 13; Variety A- 12; New York Post A- 12; Theatermania A- 12; Talkin' Broadway B+ 11; Time Out NY C+ 8; TOTAL: 11.75 (A-)

1 comment:

Jaime said...

I remember the This American Life segment Birbiglia did a little while ago, which is basically a segment from this show. It might be the best TAL segment I've ever heard. Certainly one of the funniest. I'm looking forward to seeing the show.