A wise man once said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” The identity of this savant has been debated, but the quote is most often attributed to the legendary, late comedian Robin Williams. Mike Birbiglia — actor, comedy veteran, likely the most famous man from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts — shares Williams’ trade, but contradicts his sentiment. In “The Old Man & the Pool,” Birbiglia bares all of his battles. The “Sleepwalk with Me” creator presents his latest solo show in Broadway’s Vivian Beaumont Theater. Similar to the aforementioned work, “The Old Man” is a slice of life–style monologue of Birbiglia’s ailments. In a theatrical season full of stories that center on the human body’s knack for disobedience (“Cost of Living,” “Kimberly Akimbo”), “The Old Man & the Pool” presents another fine-tuned brand of self-deprecating humor that makes you feel a little less guilty about laughing at the sick.
The bad news starts with a visit to the doctor’s office. As Birbiglia has aged, these appointments have grown in frequency (and their resulting diagnoses in severity): early-stage bladder cancer when he was 20, diabetes as a new father and now respiratory issues akin to a walking heart attack. At 44, this is concerning given Birbiglia’s less-than-ideal track record and his family’s intergenerational dance with disease: Both his father and grandfather died of a heart attack at age 56. Birbiglia can’t help but journal the morbid prophecy; he thinks “he will die soon.”