‘Caveman’ takes crack at battle of sexes

Kevin Burke performs a one-man theater piece. It’s about fatherhood, his life as a former circus clown and stand-up comedian, and his affinity for his great-grandmother, who was a fraudulent spiritualist medium.

But that’s not the show he’s doing here.

“Defending the Caveman” is a little easier to get your arms around. The Golden Nugget’s new resident production is an anthropological take on the battle of the sexes that became a Broadway hit in the 1990s.

Rob Becker, the original writer and performer, sold “Caveman” for a big chunk of change and retreated to Northern California to contemplate a follow-up.

But after Burke took his own stab at long-form comedy, “Born to Goof,” in 2002, “mutual friends made a mental connection” that led to the Indianapolis-based comedian becoming one of Becker’s handpicked successors.

“Rob directed me toward my own strengths as a comic and an actor and didn’t try to turn me into a clone,” says Burke.

Golden Nugget officials and local producer John Benthan hope to break new ground with the theatrical comedy that opens Friday, with shows until June 21 designated as previews. (If you really wanted to see “Simply Ballroom” at the hotel, today is your last chance.)

The producers are banking on the title having built recognition and positive word of mouth by touring other cities for one-week stops. But it never digs in for long runs in any city, and Las Vegas will host the country’s only year-round production.

Marketing efforts will make a special outreach to locals, who may not have been motivated to check out the hotel’s overall renovation. Still, it’s always tough to introduce a new genre in Las Vegas, and it may take time to explain the “Caveman” mix of stand-up comedy and theater.

While “Caveman” has its roots in stand-up, “it is a play,” Burke says. “There’s a story arc. The character goes through changes. He’s in a different place at the end from where he starts.

“A lot of people have covered the ‘men and women are different’ but this is the show that tells you why,” Burke says. Becker started writing the piece after attending a party where a woman said, “The problem is, men are all assholes.”

“Rob was waiting for somebody to object, and nobody did. That started him on a whole expedition to try to figure this out, and that led him back to hunter-gatherer societies.”

Becker interviewed social anthropologists “to make sure the science behind what he was writing was correct,” Burke adds.

Performing in Las Vegas is a dream come true for Burke, a magic aficionado who has kept track of entertainment here for years. He had barely arrived in town before going to see Penn & Teller and George Wallace, who once talked him through a hard stretch by telling him to stick with stand-up comedy: “We have the best job in the world.” …

It may be a coincidence, but Steve Connolly is throwing in the towel on his Fremont Street tribute to Elvis, “Spirit of the King,” before “Caveman” can have the chance to do much harm. The show packs it in at Fitzgeralds on June 12, after a four-year run. Producer David Holiff is knocking on doors to help Connolly relocate the show.

The likely replacement is another tribute show, “Country Superstars,” helmed by Ronnie Keel, which was in final contract reviews this week. It’s set for a June 21 opening in a 7 p.m. berth. Connolly’s 10:30 p.m. slot will probably go away. “It’s just never been a good time for us,” says Fitzgeralds spokesman Gene Sagas.

Mike Weatherford’s entertainment column appears Thursdays and Sundays. Contact him at 383-0288 or e-mail him at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com.

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