'DEFENDING THE CAVEMAN'


More than one person has asked me if "Defending the Caveman" is tied into the popular Geico caveman ad campaign. This could be good or bad news for the show at the Golden Nugget.

On the plus side, the confusion proves stand-up comedian Rob Becker created a timeless analogy for his comparison of men and women. Timeless in a relative way, for Becker took his history and anthropology seriously in writing the one-man show.

On the other hand, the Nugget's current production of "Caveman" sometimes makes you wonder if the Nugget should have vaulted ahead and snagged the rights to the Geico characters, as ABC did for a sitcom due this fall.

This version of "Caveman" doesn't specifically tip its hand to its early '90s origins. In fact, it tries very hard not to, by name-checking current TV shows such as "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"

But as a whole, the comic monologue cannot escape a vague nostalgia for the early, happier years of the Clinton administration and evenings spent watching "Home Improvement."

Perhaps significantly, the Tim Allen sitcom was popular during the four years Becker polished his work for its 1995 Broadway debut. Granted, jokes about men preferring tool talk to gossip don't begin or end with either title. But they sure haven't become any fresher in the past 12 years.

What is fresh, for Las Vegas at least, is the form and presentation. Local producer John Bentham has pulled off a near miracle in joining more than 70 other shows in Las Vegas without being the fifth or sixth in one genre or another.

Performed here by another comic, Kevin Burke, "Caveman" negotiates a thin line between stand-up comedy and the type of theater seldom seen here, beyond occasional visits of "Mark Twain Tonight."

Burke wears street clothes as he paces a living room set right out of "The Flintstones," complete with rock-chiseled TV set. Lighting and musical cues help him make his point, breaking up what is essentially a long comic lecture -- trimmed to a painless 70 minutes plus an amusing opening video -- tracing male and female behavior back to the earliest societies.

He begins by recapping the crumbling respect for American men as women gained equality in the '70s and '80s. Today, menfolk are so indefensible that our hero hears the statement "Men are assholes" go unchallenged at a cocktail party. A Dickensian visit from a spectral caveman rolls time back two hours and empowers him. "Maybe it was my job to go back to that party (and convince the women), 'Why don't we just look at them as different?' "

Becker's central theory is that behavior and essential misunderstandings still tie back to the male's early role as hunter and the female as gatherer. Channel-surfing is a dude's way of "killing the channels." A woman lingers on each station before clicking to the next because she is "gathering information."

Women come home from parties full of new updates about their friends, and get upset because "I gathered nothing. We (men) don't mean to be dicks, we just don't have the details."

The theory extends all the way into the bedroom, where sex forces each partner to make the ultimate sacrifice of role reversal: The woman has to "narrow her focus" and the men need to "wonder and discover."

Burke has been performing "Caveman" for more than three years and delivers this occasionally heady stuff with a relaxed authority. He's the likable schlub direct from the John Goodman wing of Sitcom Central Casting. Yes, he leaves his dirty socks and underwear all over the place. But can you really get mad at him?

The material might even be edgier and less predictable if women had to warm up to someone who wasn't so immediately huggable. You also wonder what Becker would say if he was forced to update his piece to the text-messaging era. How do these suburban domestic concerns apply in an age when school officials fear teens are losing the skills to talk in person?

But the Nugget's casino demographic still weighs more toward married grown-ups with their own kids to worry about. And said grown-ups still are likely to walk away from "Caveman" with more insight than they'll get from a Geico spot, let alone any asshole comedian on the Strip.

 

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