From its opening musical montage to The Circle of Sacred Underwear-where men do their best thinking-Rob Becker’s Defending the Caveman is full of laugh-out-loud surprises. The longest running solo play on Broadway in 1996, Caveman is a one-man show (starring Kevin Burke) about why men and women don’t get along, and why perhaps they shouldn’t.
For 90 minutes, Burke explains to an increasingly captivated audience that men and women actually have two different cultures with different customs. What women perceive as male insensitivity is in fact just a genuine inability of the two cultures to understand one another. His arguments unfold riotously, one after the next, and cover everything from differences in fighting style to justifying a need for fishing (“You can’t just say to your friend, ‘hey Chuck, you wanna go sit out by a lake?’ He wouldn’t want to go!”)
One of the best things about the play is the fact that it doesn’t define itself. Is it theatre? Standup? A sitcom, maybe? Staged like a play with a Flintstone-esque living room set, the show runs more like a comedy hour-Burke tells stories about his wife, has conversations with audience members and switches from the script to ad-libbing at his convenience.
A one-man show is always a challenge. To entertain an entire audience alone for over an hour is no easy feat, but Burke’s easygoing charisma and talent make the job seem like a piece of cake. He flawlessly takes on every type of persona, from cavemen to girly girls and wraps up anything potentially offensive with a disarming grin that charms every time. Burke is a ham, but a loveable one, and through him the dusty “men are from Mars” schtick gains a shiny new edge.
In fact, Burke’s magnetism is so forceful, and his delivery so laid-back, that the audience is inclined to chime in. Toward the end of the evening, the energy in the room and the audience’s connection to the play is tangible-they finish his sentences and respond to satirical comments with yells and applause. A venue containing fewer than 200 people begins to sound more like a crowd at a baseball game than a theatre audience. After one particularly shrewd observation from Burke, a man in the third row laughs and cries out at the woman next to him, “You do that to me!” which of course, prompts more laughter from the rest of the group. Caveman achieves that rare theatrical ability to connect with the audience; there’s a feeling of being in on something, of learning about a new, hilarious secret that nobody else knows.
Of course, such an intense audience connection requires the right kind of audience. Although the subject matter of Caveman is universal, it seems geared toward a younger, more casual group.
Becker attempts to expand the show’s base with a more serious and sentimental ending. But he would have be better off letting things wind down the way they started up – with a man sitting on a crude stone chair, ruminating in an underwear-filled living room about the differences between the male and female species, letting everyone around him in on a little more about the opposite sex than they knew before.
Defending the Caveman runs until April 30 at Rosslyn’s Spectrum Theatre. Call 202-395-SEAT for tickets.