MONTREAL – When his show, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend ended last night at the Gesu – Centre de Creativite, Mike Birbiglia received a standing ovation—because that’s what happens when a theater audience appreciates an amazing performance.
I point this out only to highlight the difference between loosely labeled “one-man shows” you might see in festival settings like Just For Laughs and what Birbiglia does, which is write and perform a theatrical piece, complete with through line and proper story structure.
If you’ve been following Birbiglia the last few years, you’ll know that the stand-up comedian has become well known as a storyteller; and with the great success of his off-Broadway show Sleepwalk with Me he’s become a respected theater performer. When Sleepwalk was in previews in New York two years ago, I reviewed the show, saying that it was about “a young man’s recursive, anxiety-soaked journey to proper adulthood.”
If I applied that description to My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, it wouldn’t not make sense— in part because, looking back, my summation was pretty darn general and in part, because this new show is also about the comedian’s evolution. The difference is in the former show, Birbiglia’s nearly debilitating sleepwalking disorder and near death experiences combine to create the vehicle that drives him to evolve; in the current show, it’s love behind the wheel— although, there are a pair of near-death scenes in this one, too.
The hour-long performance opens in medias res; Birbiglia is having an argument with his now-wife, Jenny. Soon Birbiglia backs up to tell the audience about them first meeting in St. Louis and then their first date; from there, we travel back in time, to when our protagonist was a 12-year-old seventh grader. Desperate for his first kiss he convinces a neighborhood girl, Lisa to come with him to a carnival, snuggles up to her on the Scrambler ride and then proceeds to spew vomit. No first kiss.
Throughout the show, Birbiglia artfully bounces from these distant past love-inspired misadventures (a school dance with Sandra, his lying first girlfriend Amanda) to the near past (going to Bermuda with an ID-and-passport-less Jenny, learning that Jenny had been getting cozy with her former on/off again boyfriend, John) just years before he and Jenny – two people who at first agreed that marriage was silly – tied the knot.
Of course, the show ends happily and with a slightly more resolved and assured Birbiglia we saw at the end of Sleepwalk. But while Birbigs’ no doubt has found closure on a great many things surrounding love and relationships, there will always be room for growth, and therefore hopefully room for a third theatrical representation of this comedian’s progress.
My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend plays again tonight and tomorrow night. Get your tickets here.