Stage review: Jokey 'Defending the Caveman' has tender moments


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Surrounded by two drawings of an ancient caveman and woman, a spear, a dirty laundry hamper and a chair and television set that feel straight out of "The Flintstones," Vince Valentine told audience members why it is that men flip through channels like they're trying to win a race, while women prefer to spend time on each channel, seeing what it has to offer.

'Defending the Caveman'

Where: CLO Cabaret, Theater Square, Downtown.

When: Through Oct. 20. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays (some 1 p.m. Thursday matinees).

Tickets: $34.75-$44.75; pittsburghclo.org or 412-456-6666.

Men, by nature, were hunters, goal-oriented creatures. Such single-minded behavior was necessary to provide food and shelter. Women were gatherers, seeking and collecting the necessary items to build a better and safer home. Today, these traits persist. Men must hunt through the channels, tracking their prey. Women must gather information -- about the TV channel, about that dress in the mall, about their friends.

The battle of the sexes is rooted in this prehistoric paradigm. At least, that's the idea put forth in "Defending the Caveman," the longest running solo show in Broadway history.

Mr. Valentine, one of two cavemen during the show's run at the CLO Cabaret, has returned to Pittsburgh to perform the 90-minute play by Rob Becker. This marks his ninth year as the spear-wielding messenger who draws on psychology, sociology and anthropology to prove men and women are neither insensitive nor ignorant to each other's differences. They just operate on entirely different wavelengths bred into them.

Throughout the evening, murmurings of "Mm-hmm" and "That's so true" emanated from the crowd, filled almost exclusively with couples, young and old, as Mr. Valentine broke down traditional gender dichotomies, giving validation to the behavior we know so well.

When the onion dip runs out at a party, it's part of women's nature as gatherers to cooperate and head to the kitchen en masse for a refill. Men, by nature, negotiate as to who should be the one to refill the bowl. The trouble comes when you have "mixed company," the play suggests. One gender simply does not understand the basic survival aspects of the other.

Although Mr. Becker's long-winded defense of nature versus nurture can feel tired at times (jokes about men falling asleep after sex are not unique), Mr. Valentine has an ease and charm that make the monologue feel casual, like you could imagine him starting this rant over drinks after a Steelers game.

With a comfort that comes from experience in the role, he riffed on the crowd, using audience reactions for more jokes, more insight into the ways of men and women. And as is appropriate for such a show, he drew on his own life story, making his wife Stephanie and his childhood friend Dominic characters in their own right. Yet it is odd why he launched into a Brooklyn-esque accent each time he recounted encounters with his male friends. It is difficult to imagine that this, too, was bred into men to better hunt and provide for their families.

But the show is not all gags and "Am-I-right?" jokes. There's a tender thread that runs through the story: the basic struggle of a man trying to figure out how best to care for the person he has chosen to spend his life with. When Mr. Valentine took a seat in the armchair, bathed in red light, and spoke seriously about the uncertainty he often experiences in his marriage, the knowing nods reflected a deeper grain of truth in this script: There is no right way to love. You can only try your best -- and maybe refill the onion dip once in a while.

theaterreviews

Jacob Axelrad: jaxelrad@post-gazette.com. On Twitter: @jakeaxelrad.


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