By Hemanth Kissoon
“When you fall in love, you tend to ignore certain red flags.”
A one man comedy show that isn’t just a stream of nonsequitur gags, and instead is a tightly plotted odyssey through relationship misery, which is both hilarious and observant, now that’s something right? Which is what Mike Birbiglia delivered at the Soho Theatre with MY GIRLFRIEND’S BOYFRIEND. From the opening conversational easing into his personality, the get-to-know him bit, seems engaging but not relevant until the concluding gag ties the whole thing together. Wow! On the strength of his writing and stage presence, I can see why his previous SLEEPWALK WITH ME has been turned into a film.
Birbiglia purports to talk us through his formative encounters and relationships. I’m not sure how much is autobiographical, or just from the mind of a top writer as well as gifted natural performer; but it doesn’t matter, because it feels like we’re being let into his life over a drink in a living room. That is no mean feat with a packed audience. He’s had an argument with his latest squeeze and we go back from there, explaining how he got to this point, and then moving beyond it. There are anecdotes within anecdotes, asides and musings. There is a definite density to the narrative structure, and you have to concentrate to keep up. At one point to me, the stories were blurring between tales of girlfriends; the only time I felt the ball was dropped. Even when the microphone accidentally failed at the start, Birbiglia just carried on, improvising the minor mishap into proceedings. Without the added volume, perhaps it unexpectedly enhanced the intimacy.
A minimalist set, black stage with chalk drawings on the back wall, it is purely the Mike Birbiglia show. Physical humour, zinging delivery and perfect timing, it was equal to top-notch Woody Allen or the Duplass brothers in certain moments. I can’t quite pinpoint yet why it is not five stars for entertainment, maybe I’ll alter the grade later; could be because the actual jokes are forgettable, even though the atmosphere is not. Either way, this is a master at work.