Defending the Caveman is a low-key, low-budget one-man show, part standup comedy, part nightclub act. Written by Rob Becker, the piece has been appearing in intimate venues around the country for several years, promoted as a fun way to pass an evening with a drink in your hand and your significant other by your side. Which it is. Inspired by the comment he frequently heard from women that "men are assholes," Becker set out to defend his gender.
The differences that set men and women against each other, he posits, are based on the primitive past: man's function as hunter, woman's as gatherer. Because a hunter must focus almost maniacally on one thing while a gatherer takes in the details of entire landscapes, men tend to simplify and go directly to the point, while women wool-gather, scramble, synthesize and come to their own, often idiosyncratic conclusions. Most of his observations are quite bland and obvious, along the well-worn lines that women like to shop, men like to watch television, and men want to control the remote and flip through channels blindingly fast while women actually pause long enough to observe what's playing.
More than a decade ago, linguist Deborah Tannen wrote a popular book about these very differences called You Just Don't Understand. Here's a passage:
Defending the Caveman
Presented by Denver Center Attractions through October 27 at the Garner Galleria Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, denvercenter.org.
"Eve had a benign lump removed from her breast. When she confided to her husband, Mark, that she was distressed because the stitches changed the contour of her breast, he answered, 'You can always have plastic surgery.'
"This comment bothered her. 'I'm sorry you don't like the way it looks,' she protested. 'But I'm not having any more surgery!'
"Mark was hurt and puzzled. 'I don't care about a scar,' he replied. 'It doesn't bother me at all.'
"'Then why are you telling me to have plastic surgery?' she asked.
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"'Because you were upset about the way it looks.'"
Banal as all this sounds, it's backed by research. Some stereotypes are popular because they're true. Or somewhat true, which is the case with a lot of the stereotypes Becker evokes. Sure, the hunter-gatherer explanation has been used to explain all kinds of woolly and precariously sourced theories, but most experts will admit that men and woman are wired differently — something I'd have disputed passionately in my early, angry feminist days, but which, having watched my then-six-year-old daughter painting her nails with Magic Marker while her little male peers were running wild climbing every upright object they encountered, I have come to accept. Most men don't want to ask for directions when they're traveling. Women often do want to talk more about their feelings. And that's why Defending the Caveman is funny. The evening I spent watching the play, now back at the Garner Galleria, was punctuated throughout by audience laughter and audible murmurs of recognition.
It helps a lot that Colorado native Cody Lyman, who delivers Becker's monologue, is an appealing performer — strong, supple, self-aware and possessing an easy, comfortable masculinity. A lot of the humor occurs between the lines, in his movements and facial expressions. Not so much the slack-jawed Neanderthal look he periodically assumes, but in more unexpected moments — as when he becomes a baseball player waiting on the field for some action or a guy negotiating with friends over whose turn it is to fill the chip bowl. He puzzles over the fact that women usually greet a friend with a compliment, whereas his friends would think he was nuts if he did the same thing. A delicious moment occurs after he's explained that to a woman, any object carelessly dropped and left on her clean floor is, in emotional terms, a mortal wound — and then he mimes the way his wife's puzzlement turns slowly to wonder and then profound hurt when she sees one of his abandoned socks. It's a detailed piece of mimicry that reveals a man who has studied women — or a particular woman — with deep and abiding affection. Defending the Caveman is hardly revelatory, but it does come across as an endearing attempt to bridge the gap between the sexes.
I was standing in line inside the ladies' room afterward when the woman behind me turned to someone who had just come in. "Oh," she said, "I really like your earrings." There was a second's silence, and then, as one, we all burst out laughing.