“Defending the Caveman,” which arrives at the INB Performing Arts Center on Saturday, is:
A. A one-man play about the differences between men and women.
B. A standup comedy monologue about the same subject.
C. All of the above.
The correct answer is C, because Rob Becker’s hit 1991 show is scripted like a play, yet delivered like a standup monologue – a particularly well-crafted monologue.
“This is an act that’s really refined,” said Ben Tedder, the Chicago actor performing in this tour. “It’s the best standup comedy act out there – as well as being a really heartfelt play.”
“Defending the Caveman” clearly has something going for it, because it has been performed virtually nonstop – on Broadway, on tour and in Las Vegas – since Becker first unveiled it in the early 1990s. Becker has since bequeathed the show to several other actors (“passing the spear”) who continue to tour it around the country. It also runs as often as three performances a night at Harrah’s Las Vegas.
Tedder said it speaks to everyone who “has been in a relationship, is in a relationship or wants to be in a relationship,” which just about covers humanity.
“It’s the perfect date night out,” said Tedder. “We’ve had couples who just started dating and others who have come up and told me that it was their 50th wedding anniversary. There’s a lot of nudging that goes on during the show.”
He said some people have accused him of installing “cameras in their bedrooms.” How else could this show have transcribed their arguments so perfectly?
The title refers to Becker’s central point, which is this: Men in caveman times were hunters. Women were gatherers. Each role required a different way of thinking.
“Since those days, we’ve evolved a lot,” said Tedder. “A lot has changed, but men have really held on to the hunter mindset and women have really held on to the gatherer mindset.”
Arguments and comical misunderstandings ensue.
The show did not necessarily bowl over the New York theater establishment. Vincent Canby of the New York Times called it “middle-class mall humor.” He also berated the audience – bizarrely – for laughing at everything. The show ran on Broadway for 674 performances, a record for a solo comedy.
A more measured critical reaction came from the Chicago Sun-Times, which said, “Despite the club-wielding Neanderthal ring of its title, ‘Defending the Caveman’ is a surprisingly sweet, gently comic, even sentimental little celebration of the male and female of the species.”
Tedder, a stage veteran, isn’t certain how he won the audition for “Defending the Caveman,” but maybe it’s because he fits a certain type.
“I feel like I might be tearing myself down when I say this, but I’m not some super-handsome guy,” said Tedder. “Not a Tom Cruise-y looking guy. I guess the ‘Caveman’ guy is like a great brother-in-law who also has a very strong heart. And his heart is in the right place.”