Entertainment :: Theatre

Sleepwalk With Me

by Ellen Wernecke
Contributor
Wednesday Nov 12, 2008
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In this image released by Keith Sherman and Associates, Mike Birbiglia, who wrote and stars in ’Sleepwalk with Me,’ is shown. The production is now playing at off-Broadway’s Bleecker Street Theater in New York.
In this image released by Keith Sherman and Associates, Mike Birbiglia, who wrote and stars in ’Sleepwalk with Me,’ is shown. The production is now playing at off-Broadway’s Bleecker Street Theater in New York.  (Source:AP Photo/Keith Sherman and Associates, Joan Marcus)

The upshot of Mike Birbiglia’s hilarious new show Sleepwalk With Me is that the comedian, who suffered from REM behavior disorder (the diagnosis of which he assiduously avoided for years), is lucky to be alive. His signature gesture, which is impossible not to imitate, punctuates moments in his past when he may have known better; Birbiglia holds up his open palms level with each other, cocks his head and says, "I know." Of course, if he had seen the error of his ways much sooner, he wouldn’t have the horrifying story and, somehow, be able to draw it out into an evening’s entertainment.

Birbiglia started sleepwalking after college when he moved in with his "Wedding Story"-obsessed girlfriend (about which he says of their meeting, "I kept running into her on campus ’cause I was following her"). He describes seeing a "hovering insect-like jackal" in his sleep, forcing him to make karate poses on his bed to defeat it; later dreams caused him to knock over a dresser, break his TiVo and, ultimately, jump out of a closed second-story window Hulk-style while on tour in Walla Walla, Washington. At that point, his preferred coping strategy -- idly flipping through a book called "The Promise of Sleep" before getting distracted by something else -- had definitively failed.

Birbiglia admitted over the course of the night to reading his own search results on Google and discovering that another critic had called him "pudgy and awkward" in the process. He may be awkward in the past versions of himself, but his Nathan Lane-produced set mixes a Jim Gaffigan-esque self-deprecation with an unexpected physical grace, particularly in his use of the chair onstage to reenact his night-time adventures. And there are many more surprises here which aren’t related at all to his sleepwalking, from his distrust of bears to an incident with a urologist that confirmed his lifelong hypochondria. "Sleepwalk With Me" never feels rushed, but it doesn’t lag either: It’s a delightful, relatable show -- and now you know as well.

Open ended run at the Theatres at 45 Bleecker, 45 Bleecker St. For tickets and more information, visit sleepwalkwithmike.com

Ellen Wernecke’s work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and The Onion A.V. Club, and she comments on books regularly for WEBR’s "Talk of the Town with Parker Sunshine." A Wisconsin native, she now lives in New York City.

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