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    2008-2009 reviews:
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    Sleepwalk With Me
    Photo by Joan Marcus

    Barstool on Bleecker

    In "Sleepwalk With Me," Mike Birbiglia lays bare his humiliation, hope, fear, uncertainly, anxiety, and joy, all with nothing but a barstool for scenery.


    In a theater on Bleeker Street, one man stands up in front of a sea of strangers — well, okay, about 200 strangers — and recounts his bouts with sleepwalking, his climb to success as a performer, and his relationships with lovers and with family members. In "Sleepwalk With Me," Mike Birbiglia lays bare his humiliation, hope, fear, uncertainly, anxiety, and joy, all with nothing but a barstool for scenery.

    Written and performed by: Mike Birbiglia.
    Directed by: Seth Barrish.
    Produced by: Nathan Lane, Eli Gonda, Ryan Scott Warren, Big Beach, Marc Turteltaub, Peter Saraf, Quasiworld Entertainment.
    Sound design by: Jody Elff.
    Set design by: Beowulf Borritt.
    Lighting design by: Jason Lyons.
    Theatres at 45 Bleecker Street -- The Bleecker Street Theatre
    45 Bleecker Street (at Lafayette)
    Previews start: Oct. 17, 2008
    Nov. 11, 2008 - June 7, 2009

    Part stand-up comedy, part autobiography, part walk down memory lane, "Sleepwalk with Me" seems to be Birbiglia's way of making sense of the events in his life that have led him to where he is today — he just chooses to do so in front of an audience. His tone is light and conversational, as if he's talking to a close friend, or aloud to himself. He paces. He mumbles. He shouts. He mimes leaping out of windows. He stands on top of his barstool in a karate stance, remembering half-waking up in the middle of the night, standing on his bed yelling "There' a Jackal in the room!" much to the annoyance of his then live-in girlfriend.

    Though the show is only Birbiglia — jumping around the stage, using his barstool as a prop to stand in for everything from the bookshelf he once found himself teetering atop in the middle of the night during a bout of sleepwalking to a symbol for the tools his proctologist brandished during a routine visit — the audience sees much more than a man standing alone on stage. The story of how Birbiglia once leapt out of a second-story window during the night while staying at a hotel between comedy gigs due to his sleepwalking is so vivid that we in the audience can see him standing on the lawn in his underwear, bleeding, with shards of glass protruding from his legs.

    Sleepwalk With Me  
    Photo by Joan Marcus  
    As Birbiglia struggles with sleepwalking and with starting out as a stand-up comedian, his father and his girlfriend, though not present on stage, emerge as the show's other two central characters. Birbiglia remembers his father as a man of few words; three, to be exact: "Don't tell anyone." Perhaps this is why Birbiglia waited so long to see a doctor about his increasingly dangerous sleepwalking habit — he had been raised not to share personal turmoil with strangers, though the message obviously didn't take, as performing "Sleepwalk With Me" is exactly the opposite of the lesson Birbiglia learned at home.

      He paces. He mumbles. He shouts. He mimes leaping out of windows.
    Speaking about his role as a comedian, Birbiglia is astoundingly perceptive. He says that when an audience doesn't like a theater performance, they can blame it on the set design, or the lighting, or on bad acting. But when they don't like the performance of a stand-up comic, he says, there are none of those things to fall back on; "they just don't like you." Lines like these hit the audience hard and bring a note of somberness and empathy to the show. The audience often goes from hysterical laughter to moments of poignant silence in "Sleepwalk With Me," while Birbiglia companionably shares the best, and worst, and most emotional moments of his life with us.

    JUNE 12, 2009

    Reader comments on Sleepwalk With Me:

  • YES   from Jess Hand, Jun 12, 2009

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