Mike Birbiglia plays ‘Boyfriend’ perfectly
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org October 26, 2012 2:36PM
Mike Birbiglia's "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" at Barrow Street Theatre.
◆ Oct. 26 and 27 at 7:30 and 10 p.m.; Oct. 28 and 29 at 7:30 p.m.
◆ Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln
◆ Tickets, $45.50
◆ (773) 871-3000;
Updated: November 28, 2012 6:05AM
No written description can do full justice to the spirit of actor-comedian-writer Mike Birbiglia and what he does in his winningly honest, ruefully funny, seamlessly performed show, “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend.”
Sure, you can explain that the thirtysomething Birbiglia — now in a nearly sold-out engagement at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theatre through Monday night — gives us a sweetly quirky, self-deflating, winningly revealing coming-of-age story that deals with everything from his realistic self-image (he describes his overall appeal to women as being of the “sex maybe” variety, with “fixer-upper” appeal), to his first kiss and initial attempts at making out, and then on to his first date with Jenny — the woman who will ultimately become his wife.
You can even mention that Birbiglia tied the knot with Jenny despite the fact that for years he swore off marriage as a wholly outmoded convention, proclaiming that while the government has any number of valid roles to play in our lives, overseeing personal relationships was not one of them. (Jenny isn’t entirely sure of marriage at first, either, as the title of Birbiglia’s show subtly hints at.)
You also can explain that Birbiglia’s tale turns out to be as much about justice (or the lack of it) as it is about love, and about how he learns to hold on to the pursuit of one of those things while painfully letting go of the other. A vivid refrain in the show concerns how Birbiglia, whose rental car was “t-boned” by a drunk driver, ended up having to pay a huge damages bill, with notable injustice on the part of cops and lawyers. Of course not all is fair in matters of love, either.
Yet none of these descriptions fully suggests Birbiglia the performer — a boyish-looking guy who arrives on stage in jeans, a button-down shirt that has not seen an iron, and gym shoes (“This is my ‘A’ outfit,” he confesses), and proceeds to charm his listeners with his familiar but exquisitely shaped material. It’s worth catching the guy just to see his body language as he re-enacts an especially unhappy whirl on the Scrambler, a carnival ride that adds to the toxicity of cotton candy, which he describes as “sugar dressed up as insulation.”
And then there are the countless priceless encounters that Birbiglia captures to perfection with just the tilt of a head, or perfect descriptive language. (He tells us that watching his classmates making out reminded him of “dogs eating spaghetti.”) And there is much more where that came from.
Birbiglia, who also is the star of the autobiographical film, “Sleepwalk With Me,” received the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Solo Show for “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend,” which he clearly has honed to perfection with runs in Canada, Australia and New York. His long and hilarious “warmup” for this performance — a riff on robotic answering services, rage-inducing customer help lines and much more — is a gem all by itself. But what really clinched the deal for me with this guy is that he is obsessed with getting to the airport early.