The Old Man and The Pool – The Vicissitudes of Aging with Humor
You may rightly accuse me of living under a rock, but this is the first Mike Birbiglia piece I’ve seen. I am now a devoted camp follower. Not only does the gifted monologist elicit 85 minutes of irrepressible laughter, he does so including subjects that would otherwise be quite serious.
At 44, the artist visits Dr. Walsh for his annual check-up and is asked to breathe into a tube. “I don’t know what to tell you, Mike. If I were to go by that machine, I’d think you were having a heart attack.” “Am I?” the patient asks. “I don’t think so,” is the response. “I need a more concrete answer.” He’s sent to a cardiologist. Birbiglia’s dad and his dad both died of a heart attack at 56. “So I thought I’d leave the year free, maybe get an Airbnb near the hospital…”
This is a story about aging and mortality, what it takes to work against ill health and what makes life worth living. Birbiglia tells the doctor/us about wrestling, the only physical activity in which he participated – in college. “Based on my ability, I was paired with a guy who weighed forty pounds less but managed to pin me. It was like watching a paperweight be pinned by paper.” This doctor recommends swimming. The performer suffered droll six year-old trauma at a pool, however, and now examines the possibility with gimlet eye.
He talks of his family’s inability to say the word “love,” of taking his Jewish wife and daughter (with whom he has no such issue) home for Christmas to eat chicken parmesan in a scene he envisions as having been cut from The Godfather.
Back home in Brooklyn, “a three year-old makes it look like you had a rave at a bakery…” Oona has made him a bracelet that says “BE SILLY.” Clever girl. “Those are the yellowest teeth I’ve ever seen,” she says to him one night. “I don’t encourage her because I don’t want her to become an insult comedienne.” Writing a will seems avoidable – a lawyer’s visit is like watching a cartoon deer in headlights – so he sees a nutritionist. We hear excerpts from his journal.
It’s Oona’s presence that forces him to return to the YWCA pool. Ersatz swimming lessons follow. It seems there were earlier signs of illness, one creating a hugely embarrassing moment, but again not so funny in retrospect. “I withdrew to my room thinking I’d die and I’m someone who TALKS. I mean I gathered you here.” His exercise regime changes. We share an aria da capo vision of the old man at the pool.
Except for multiple health challenges – for some, because of them – it’s easy to empathize with Birbiglia and to envy his outlook.
If I hadn’t been comped to review this I would not have resented paying for a brief, one man show. The writer/performer is adorable; warm, genuine, and hysterical. GO.
Seth Barrish’s direction is creative while appearing perfectly natural. Birbiglia ambles around the stage and sometimes sits on a stool, but also lies next to his three year old daughter, swims, interacts with the audience (usually cringe-worthy, but actually funny here) and throws out an arm here and there with eloquent comic timing.
The imaginative set by Beowulf Boritt consists of what appears to be a sheet of curling graph paper which becomes by dint of projection, a swimming pool, journal pages and a doctor’s medical chart.
Photos by Emilio Madrid
The Old Man and The Pool
Written and StarringMike Birbiglia
Directed by Seth Barrish
Lincoln Center Theater
Vivian Beaumont Theater