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A CurtainUp Review
Sleep Walk With Me
By Julia Furay
Imagine my surprise when a few minutes into Sleepwalk With Me I realized that the play was an extended version of the very same hilarious story I'd heard on the radio. Comedian Mike Birbiglia's one-man play is a sort of mixture between standup comedy and monologue. Notably, none other than Nathan Lane, the producer of Mel Brooks' musical himself is making his producing debut with Sleepwalk (among others).
The radio segment was a much shorter piece, spotlighting Birbiglia's sleepwalking antics. The play version widens the focus to Birbiglia's relationship with his quirky parents, his struggle with cancer as a teenager, and his first love. Birbiglia is an incredibly appealing performer, with a self-deprecating air and a very witty manner of storytelling.
This production still feels more like a standup routine than a play, however. I'm not sure if that's a bad thing, given that Birbiglia is a very successful comic performer. But something about the transition from standup to theater feels awkward: The most juicy and interesting part of the story is one particular sleepwalking incident at a hotel, and this narrative is constantly interrupted for admittedly funny but only vaguely relevant tangents. The show also looks like a standup routine, with only a barstool as a prop, and straightforward staging (by Seth Barrish) that relies on Birbiglia's storytelling savvy and cheerful interactions with the audience ("I know," he nods, after the audience gasped at a particularly stupid move he made with his girlfriend).
While the best part of the show can be heard online for free at the This American Life website, Sleepwalk With Me is nevertheless worth seeing. Thanks to Birbiglia's schlubby appeal and genuine wit, this play version at its best presents poignant glimpses into a young man's first love, and into the lonely life of a comedian. And though I found the structure sometimes problematic, I enjoyed myself too much to be all that concerned.