Insight Into the Sexes

'Defending the Caveman' humorously highlights gender differences without descending into sexism

Rob Becker's Defending the Caveman is theater for people who are uncomfortable with theater. It's just one guy--currently, the appealingly dumpy Isaac Lamb--doing a two-hour standup comedy routine about that most reliable of topics: how irreconcilably different men and women are.

You get material about how women like to shop, how men won't stop to ask for directions, how women like to gossip, how men sit dully in front of the TV clicking through channels and watching nothing. This is comfort food for the theatrically timid.

And yet ... Defending the Caveman is not the stale old standup it could easily have been. There are unity and continuity here, some modest production touches (mostly the lighting, as well as some sound work and an opening video) and, most of all, a fair amount of real, if not terribly deep, insight derived from honest anthropological research. Furthermore, the show is not a series of riffs on how men are slovenly assholes and women are uptight, frivolous bitches (although some of the opening material seems to lead in that direction). Women actually come off quite well here, men only slightly less so, and in the end, it's a show that might actually make couples feel good about their differences.

Broadway in Tucson brought the show to Tucson last weekend; Defending the Caveman has already gone off to its next tour stop, but it will be back for five performances in early February. Start scratching calendar marks onto your cave wall.

After a video showing Lamb at home being a slob while his efficient wife tries to maintain an order beyond Lamb's comprehension, Lamb himself strides onto the stage, spear in hand, and eases into a set straight out of The Flintstones: to the left, a stone lounge chair; to the right, a stone TV. Lamb proceeds to explain that the differences between men and women are deep-rooted; we have separate languages, cultures and histories that can be traced all the way back to our different but complementary roles in Paleolithic times--the time of the caveman.

Men, Lamb explains, were the hunters, intensely focused on one thing: tracking down and killing dinner, something that had to be done quietly, without a lot of chatter. Women, meanwhile, were the gatherers, working cooperatively, sweeping through an area, inspecting every detail, collecting everything that could be used tonight or stored for the future. In other words, shopping.

Lamb and scriptwriter Becker spin this out into an explanation of why men now sit focused in front of the TV, oblivious to irrelevant external stimuli (like some woman telling him to take out the garbage); why women glean as much detail as possible from every human interaction, while men just stand around and look at each other's power tools; why one woman will tell another, "You're my oldest and dearest friend," while the more circumspect male equivalent is, "You still driving that piece of shit?"

It's an ingenious way to freshen up an evening of potentially stale observational humor.

Lamb has an easy stage manner, and he's willing to veer from the script just a little in order to interact with the audience. He's a master of the slack-jawed, blank stare, which he employs less when discussing cavemen than when describing a contemporary man's reaction to some woman's pronouncement.

After all this talk about how men and women are different, for reasons going back 100,000 years, the show concludes with a plea to recognize and accept these differences, and integrate them--life is easy, not a struggle, when we make our differences work together in a household's best interest, just like in the caveman days.

A show that could have been sexist and sour turns out to be rather sweet. Who would've expected that from a modern-day caveman?