Defending the Caveman at Long Wharf Theatre: Vive la Difference?


David Begelman


Defending the Caveman has the distinction of being the longest running one-person show in Broadway history. It ran for two and a half years at the Helen Hayes Theater, after opening in San Francisco, dallying in Dallas, and wowing them thereafter in Washington, D. C., Philadelphia, and Chicago. Evidently, its producers prefer mounting the show in huge cities—as well they might. If you can pack them in, why not go whole hog?

Defending the Caveman, so the playbill says, has been a worldwide hit, performed in 16 different languages in 35 countries. Judging by the international reception—not to mention the audience response at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater—something’s working right.

Caveman is the sort of fare that tickles the funny bone in sizable ways. Its author, Bob Becker, apparently hardly one too quick on the draw, took his time over a three-year period to write the comedy. Its humor, quite independently of the theme coursing through it, is the work of a craftsman. At the very least, it’s the product of a humorist you’d just die to get on your writing team if you were doing a one-person comedy sketch at some fashionable nightclub, or on late night T.V.

The props that adorn the stage during the Caveman monologue include a chair, garbage pail and T.V. set, all with a Neolithic look: they have that stony mien that guarantees they would have a comfortable niche in the bailiwick of, say, Fred Flintstone. Then there is a replica of the Venus of Willendorf, a female fertility figure dating back to 25,000 B.C.E., in case you don’t get the message about how old Caveman’s message is going to be. Aside from the ancient source of the theme he is about to expound upon, the props also seem designed to remind you it’s a play you’re watching, not just a stand-up comedy routine which, however clever, requires nothing more than a spotlight to deliver the goods.

It’s what Mr. Becker’s play is all about that has them rolling in the aisles—especially those in the theater audience who come as couples, or pairs as yet too nervous to opt for permanency.

Caveman’s premise is that something is terribly wrong between the sexes, and Caveman himself has arrived to broker a point of view that is the male spin on the matter—for a change. His is the masculine protest, the “It’s about time I got the news out about what’s been happening around here,” as if the message were never given a fair hearing in 25 centuries of female browbeating. When a poor fellow kicks up his heels, according to Caveman, he’s either beaten down or accused of grousing like a spoiled, unrepentant child.

Caveman gives the audience a taste of the play’s merriment even before actor Michael Van Osch appears on stage, ready for bear. There is a slideshow of Caveman and his wife in a sequence of domestic situations that smack of familiarity. The pics show Husband/Caveman in a hilarious sequence of plights in which he is clearly a victim of marital distress, frustration, or confusion.

Mr. Van Osch’s technique and timing is a thing of beauty—in a T-shirt and jeans, no less. He has a seasoned edge on the role, having performed it on American and Canadian stages since 2004. Not a word was lost on the audience, clearly in the palm of the actor who entered carrying a spear, just to remind you he means business over issues between the sexes still bombinating after 25 centuries.

Men, Caveman assures us, were originally “hunters,” women “gatherers:” the source of all the modern trouble between men and women, and their flashpoint of misunderstanding. He regales us with countless funny scenarios between the sexes that play out the legacy of this original disparity.

It’s a good thing playwright Becker has a fun time with it, although he is clearly in the tradition of more somber folks like Robert Bly in his Iron John: A Book about Men, or John Gray in his Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. All the same, we should eventually get real: should the typologies peddled in these serious tomes be taken that seriously? Like Defending the Caveman, they’re good for a laugh or two, before men and women get back to the business of seeing just how much alike, not different, they actually are. After a while, the Jungian stuff gets tiresome.

Defending the Caveman has a month-long run through October 12 on the Main Stage of New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, off Route 95. Performances are Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 5 and 8 pm, and Sunday matinees at 2:00 pm. Tickets may be purchased by calling 203.787.4282, or online at wwwlongwharf.org or wwwdefendingthecaveman.com.



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