Theater

Cro-Magnon Force

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and most self-help books about the battle of the sexes are written by space cadets. Since many of these tomes are also about what losers men are when it comes to their treatment of women, comedian Rob Becker took it upon himself to prove that men aren't the schmucks women believe them to be. Defending the Caveman is his one-man, two-hour argument that men and women are basically different. Men are still hunters and women are still gatherers, argues Becker, and he's turned that simple shtick into the longest running solo play in Broadway history.

Silly as Becker's hunter/gatherer premise may be, it's no more absurd than a zillion other theories that have tried to explain the differences between the sexes. And though Becker filters his observations through the lens of pop sociology, he's an entertainer first. That's why he succeeds in a way that a misogynist like Robert Dubac, author of the long-running local show The Male Intellect (an oxymoron) couldn't. Becker is alternately funny and crass, but he likes women. He may get in an occasional dig--at one point, he attempts to prove that women are uninhibited by logic. But since he fails Logic 101 himself, the point is soon lost in a maze of nonsense, and we all start laughing again.

Becker starts off by describing the caveman and the cavewoman and how they divided up tasks. Then he moves on to the similarly ritualistic habits of the modern-day male, which include building magic circles of dirty underwear, taking ritual showers after which the towel is thrown haphazardly on the bed, and making trips to the kitchen for ceremonial peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. (The crumbs, naturally, are left on the counter for the cavewoman to clean up.)

In Becker's tale, one of those magic underwear rings prompts a caveman to appear to him, a spirit guide from another age who helps Becker explain his vision of essential differences. The comedian talks about the need of the hunter to focus on a single goal, to blot out all other superfluous data and make a kill. Throughout the whole two hours, he will return again and again to this premise--it's why men don't hear their wives speak to them when they are watching TV, why they won't ask for directions if they get lost, and even why their focus on sex is so single-minded.

As gatherers, women had to be aware of a great many things at once, notice everything (especially color) and communicate with each other constantly as they were gathering ripe fruits, looking out for approaching enemies and minding the offspring. While men negotiate in their interactions with each other, Becker adds, women cooperate. This last observation may have some basis in fact, even if everything else Becker proposes doesn't.

Becker's performance style takes a while to adjust to. He runs words together so fast that couples have to translate to each other in the audience. But he has great charm, too, and his simian walk and Neanderthal facial expressions help him visually connect with his spirit guide. He wants women to understand men better than they do. Men, he notes, speak only 2,000 words a day, while women use up to 7,000. When he comes home too tired to talk, his wife thinks he doesn't love her. But he's just used up all his words, whereas she has 5,000 left.

In the end, despite all the projections and cliches about men being messy and women neat, Becker actually does contribute a little something to cross-gender understanding. There may be a few barbs in there, but the evening is really about laughs. For a caveman, he's a pretty gentle guy.

--Mason

Defending the Caveman, through March 23 at the Auditorium Theatre, in the Plex at 14th and Curtis, 893-4100.

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