Mike Birbiglia: “The Old Man & The Pool” – Mark Taper Forum

I was introduced to the concept of the one man show at The Mark Taper Forum with Spalding Gray’s epic “Swimming to Cambodia” in the 1980s. Over the years, I have seen the tightrope without a net approach of the one man show by the likes of Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Lily Tomlin and Bill Irwin.

Into those rather large shoes successfully steps Mike Birbiglia with his latest one man show “The Old Man & The Pool.” Like Gray’s show, this production is a humorous autobiographical meditation on aging.

Birbiglia has chalked up an increasingly impressive career, based mostly on his keen observations and impeccable timing.

“Healthy food goes to bed early, pizza stays up all night,” asserts Birbiglia in a riff on trying to eat better.

He takes us on his journey about trying to improve his well-being, which involves trips to the doctor and most humorously trips to his local YMCA. Able to find it by nose due to the excessive chlorine, Birbiglia describes the angst of trying to give it a go.

Along the way, we happily follow his digressions and diversions about his parents, his wife and his daughter. Unbeknownst to us, these digressions will provide further payoff later.

He spends time discussing the seemingly polite farewell many of use, “take care.” Birbiglia ultimately concludes it is really passive aggressive, which when you examine it is accurate.

As Birbiglia circles around the inevitable result of failing to take care of oneself, he references Warren Zevon. When the singer songwriter appeared on the David Letterman Show (as once did Birbiglia), the host asked Zevon if he had learned anything while grappling with his incurable cancer.

Birbiglia reminded us of Zevon’s sage answer: “Enjoy every sandwich.”

The simple stage set at the Mark Taper Forum (basically a stool on which Birbiglia occasionally sat and often moved) meant all eyes were on him for the entire 87 minute performance.

He held us almost completely in thrall for the duration, which is the ultimate success in a one man show.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.