Mike Birbiglia in
My Girlfriend's Boyfriend
(© Joan Marcus)
Mike Birbiglia in
My Girlfriend's Boyfriend
(© Joan Marcus)
Mike Birbiglia grapples with the messy complications of sexual attraction in his sharp, original, insightful, and -- most importantly -- hilarious new one-man show, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend, at the Barrow Street Theatre, Starting with the moment he was first aware of making out in seventh grade, Birbiglia jumps through time -- in just 80 minutes -- recounting his painful coming-of -age experiences and adult relationships with a vulnerable charm that draws us in and plenty of humor.

The free-form nature of the piece,directed with a skillful light touch by Seth Barrish, suits the writer-comedian well, giving him the space to vividly recreate particularly formative experiences. For example, there's the ill-fated time he took a high school crush on an amusement park ride called "the scrambler." Not only does he describe every detail (from the mechanics of the ride to the moment he realizes he's going to have to expel the mass amount of carnival food he scarfed down beforehand), he illustrates it as well. Birbiglia flails around on stage, showcasing his knack for physical comedy as he recreates the difficulty of trying to communicate with the ride's operator while being thrown around by this beast of a machine.

While that particular evening doesn't end well, things get better for Birbiglia. By the end of high school, he has a girlfriend. The only problem is that she has another boyfriend as well, but he's drawn to her "bad girl" image (she was kicked out of her previous school for dealing acid). When he meets her boyfriend's parents, though, he starts to realize that something is up, and soon he is out of the picture.

While he vows to never let this happen again, he ends up breaking that promise years later when he meets an adorable, if slightly emotionally unavailable, girl named Jenny. "From the moment I met her, I knew I wanted to sleep with her at least once," Birbiglia explains, assuring us that he means it in "a meaningful way."

As it happens, Jenny is also seeing another guy to prevent herself from being let down, but unexpectedly develops feelings for Birbiglia. As they navigate the new complexities of their relationship and possibilities of marriage, Birbiglia gets in a car crash that causes him to reevaluate his life.

Fans of his previous one-man show, Sleepwalk with Me, will find this part of the tale familiar and the endings of both shows are nearly identical. But these are just small quibbles -- and not enoughto deter anyone from spending time in Birbiglia's company.