In Defending the Caveman, now being presented by Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre in Civic Center Music Hall’s Freede Little Theatre, playwright Rob Becker says civilization is divided into two genders: women and assholes.
It stars the affable, but bland John Venable. He hits his marks, speaks his lines and leaves little lasting impression. One could give him the benefit of the doubt and blame it on the material. It’s hard to think of anyone who could do the play any more justice.
According to Becker, women operate through cooperation while men rely on negotiation. At a party, all the women will leap up to refill the chips bowl; the men will hold out until all excuses are exhausted and some poor schlub finally gets up and gets more Fritos.
We act this way today because Homo sapiens evolved as hunters (men) and gatherers (women). Self-deprecating humor usually works, but it’s hard to sustain for a 90-minute play, including intermission.
Becker allows that “studies” have shown women speak 7,000 words a day, while men speak about 2,000. At the risk of sounding like the late Andy Rooney, don’t you just hate it when people start citing “studies”?
The play originated in 1991, but has been updated with a few contemporary references. Some strained local references (Chickasha, the Thunder) have been thrown in, too. At one point, Venable leans over and quips, “Note to self: Do not pander to them with regional humor.” Good idea.
Parts of the script would have been dated or dubious even in 1991. Dialogue on how men loathe to ask for directions is like making jokes about airline food. One winces when Becker writes about hating to play baseball with girls because they would congregate in the outfield to talk and not pay attention to the game. What to do with a bowling trophy even figures into a couple of scenes.
The play is the type of crowd-pleasing pabulum theater companies find hard to resist. That’s because it’s also crowd-attracting. CityRep’s artistic director, Donald Jordan, said that by opening night, Caveman had outsold the company’s productions of November and The Normal Heart, from earlier this season, combined. You may draw your own conclusions from that.
Another thing Jordan must like is that it’s done on a bare stage with a few props, some of which look like they could have been borrowed from The Flintstones.
Becker defends the troglodyte — maybe even envies him — because, compared to today, he led a simple life protecting his kids and taking care of his woman. That’s a middlebrow sentiment if there ever were one.