For a story written in the late 1980s, with a prehistoric man as a protagonist, “Defending the Caveman” is very modern. Oh, and hilarious.
It’s all very simple. There’s one man onstage. The monologue is to the point. The set is little more than a stone chair and television. The plot: Men are not jerks, they’re just misunderstood.
The show starts with a shoddy video montage showing Kevin Burke doing the generic things women shame men for: drinking beverages straight from the refrigerator, hogging the remote, misplacing keys. Appropriately blaring through the speakers is Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract.” In the show Burke is himself: a middle-aged guy, comfortable in his relaxed jeans and loosely fitting black shirt, uncomfortable in the way women refer to all men as a body part associated with the rear end. He schools the audience in the ways of the caveman - a man whose impact is very much a part of everyday life.
There are differences in men and women that are apparent from the time they are young boys and girls. It all stems from the idea that cavemen were hunters and cavewomen were gatherers. This affects anything and everything from recreation to social settings and relationships. Men and women should be looked upon as two different cultures with different customs and histories. To Burke, it’s as obvious as the elbow nudges and “mmhmms” coming from the audience. The hunters collectively focus on a target until they’ve reached their goal. When boys play games, strategy may not go beyond: Rough up the boy with the ball. Gatherers multitask. In a group they collect things to nourish themselves and the ones they love, paying attention to all things around them as it could benefit the group. Girls swap skills for the future doing chores in a game-playing way called “house.”
This baffles Burke. If the TV is on, a hunter can see and hear the TV and only the TV. He flips through the channels quickly, killing each one with the touch of a button. The gatherer moves slowly through the channels, picking up bits of information from each.
At a social gathering, men may not talk much, but they can sit and watch a game together, just like the cavemen would sit quietly in the field watching their prey. Women support one another, constantly Burke adds, with compliments and words of advice. They pay attention to details and collect as many as they can from their friends’ stories.
Everything goes back to the caveman, Burke said, and the caveman is not a bad guy. But as he’s defending the caveman, he is not bashing women. He worships them, actually, and hopes they can understand his species.
He’s a convincing guy, complete with tighty-whities strewn across the stage. He uses hand gestures to fill in for props and actors. He doesn’t preach, and Burke, a former circus clown and stand-up comic, feels more like a friendly storyteller, or a beloved professor, than performer.
Defending the Caveman, the longest running solo play in Broadway history, could be an educational experience as much as entertainment.