Rob Becker, to use an oh-so ’90s cliche, is an enabler. “Rob Becker’s Defending the Caveman,” originated in 1991 in San Francisco and still showing legs as it starts a 10-city tour across the U.S. that will take it through May, offers a unique, and at times worn-out, take on the war between the sexes that publishers and authors and talkshow hosts have turned into a steady industry. Funny and accurate, Becker’s work is a steady force in a field where theories fly like cartoon rolling pins as everyone tries to figure out how to get along. Hand it to Becker, though, he tapped into that zeitgeist and had a solution long before the bulk of Oprah’s book buddies.
But in the book world, each successive publication alters its predecessor just a bit as writers have attempted to figure out who is from which planet, how poorly did our parents really treat us and, best of all, how to avoid the toxic people in our lives.
Becker, however, doesn’t get the luxury of a “Caveman” sequel or even a retinkering beyond the inclusion of a word like “Pokemon” to help update a particular concept. This is the show audiences saw on Broadway in 1995 and 1996, complete with an aged video set to Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract” and riffs on stopping to ask for directions, cuddling and the TV’s remote control — subjects that comedians have worn through the proverbial carpet.
Still, Becker’s a darn funny guy and his play has considerable merits — the man is so dead-on that it’s odd someone hasn’t created a show that’s merely an extension of all of his observations. The only thing that will drive away this gender-battle thing is overkill or, as we have seen with HBO’s “Sex in the City,” extra titillation. Becker, from the naive perspective of the late ’80s/early ’90s, comes in peace to explain those men-women differences and offers the sweetest of solutions near the play’s conclusion, a distant cry from Carrie Bradshaw’s pondering of the human sexual condition in “Sex.” Becker sees it from both sides.
On a sparse set with only a Flintstone-ian easy chair and television with two cave drawings behind him, Becker starts with a rundown of his life — how good it was being a boy in 1960s, how the 1970s wasn’t a good decade for manhood and, finally, how the 1990s divided the world into two genders: women and assholes.
When not seated, Becker paces the stage slumped and rarely from a position of power. At times he’s clearly defeated by female logic or lack thereof, other times the weight of “what do you want from me” crushes his spirit and he lumbers to and fro; he perks up and asserts himself whenever he has it all figured out.
Becker’s basic premise behind the misunderstanding of men and women stems from their approach to life’s tasks: Women work with a sense of cooperation, men use negotiation. The solution? “Come into my world and participate without judgment.” It’s intimate advice in an enormous setting — this is a comedian speaking, not the Dalai Lama — and the size of the room distances some of the weight of Becker’s words. He also possess a reedy voice at times that lacks authority. Not unpleasant, mind you, but not necessarily authoritative.
This is the guy next door speaking. A little overweight, dressed in T-shirt and jeans and carrying a demeanor that’s alternately “huh?” and “let me show you how it’s done,” Becker is an effective guy’s guy. He and his wife probably make a wonderful yin-yang couple; Becker’s thoroughness makes it easy to create a mental picture of his life away from the stage, where he isn’t all that concerned about this gender war and he’s more of an average everyday guy. And that is what will sustain this act for years to come.