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Women and men

The educational fossil of Defending the Caveman

The difference between men and women is examined thoughtfully in Tacoma next week. Photo courtesy of Theater Mogul

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Look. Women and men? They be different. Driving, shopping, asking for directions, watching sports, cooking their own food, planning weddings, being prone to or shunning commitment, knowing how to set the time on your VCR, etc. These are struggles we deal with every day of our lives! Luckily, there is a play that lays bare every foible displayed by both the fairer sex and the hairier sex (please don't sue me if this is actually a line in Defending the Caveman).

Defending the Caveman is the longest-running solo play in Broadway history, dating back to its inception in 1991, when Rob Becker decided to adapt his stand-up comedy into a one-man show that details the complicated relationships between men and women. From the play's perspective being told from the point of view of a man who loves women but frequently fails to understand them, Defending the Caveman does an admirable job of showing the differences between men and women without dissolving into a Jim Belushi-esque screed against women and their supposed difficulties. Today's date residing in 2015, there's simply no use for garbage like Belushi's Real Men Don't Apologize or Steve Harvey's Act Like a Woman, Think Like a Man, which only serve to reduce the entire human race to a sub-'50s world of servitude for women, and Pharaoh-esque entitlement for men.

Whereas those aforementioned books were medieval pieces of tripe, Defending the Caveman has survived being dated because it gives equal respect to men and women, essentially establishing the viewpoint that everyone is screwed-up and flawed in their own ways. Yes, this talk is couched in language that was worked out in the clubs of the comedy boom of the late ‘80s, which necessitates a certain lack of subtlety, but the show has succeeded due to audiences sensing it being even-handed in its examination of the sexes. This is a show that tries its best not to be a rehashing of a Tim Allen set.

The show has existed for almost 25 years, with multiple people filling in the role of the narrator, and with the show being translated into 18 different languages and performed in 45 countries. Clearly, there's something of a universal truth that accompanies the play; also, this is clearly a plum gig for a working actor. I spoke with one such actor - John Venable, who makes up one of the six actors in rotation across the country with this material - who is heading to Tacoma to perform Defending the Caveman.

"It was just three years last month that I did my first show, down in Dallas," says Venable. "The show takes me all over the nation, which is pretty cool. It takes me places that wouldn't have thought of as a vacation spot, like Minneapolis or Pittsburgh, and I really ended up enjoying them. I discovered that they were pretty friggin' great. ... People see themselves in the show. So many times, after a show, I go out and shake hands with people on the way out, and people say, ‘It's amazing! It's almost like you had a hidden camera in our house and been watching us for the past twenty years. You hit the nail on the head.' I think that just to see it all communicated in this package in which it's presented, people just see themselves in it."

The idea of men and women being different is one that continues to develop and evolve - including the idea that, duh, we're really not all that different - but Defending the Caveman remains as a fossil of a time that continues to be explored: when did women and men have to be different, and where does that differentiation fall these days? This is a show that offers a view of the past, in two different ways.

DEFENDING THE CAVEMAN, Theatre on the Square, June 18-19, 7:30 p.m., June 20-21 3:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m., $19-$49, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.591.5890

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