Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Theater Review: Defending the Caveman -- Downtown Cabaret

Paul Perroni. Photo: courtesy of Downtown Cabaret Theatre.

Caveman Conquers Downtown Cabaret                                        By Tom Holehan
Somehow I’ve managed to miss the numerous productions of Defending the Caveman, Rob Becker’s one-man money machine that opened in San Francisco in 1991 and proceeded to run two and a half years on Broadway (a record for solo plays).  Becker clearly struck a nerve in his sweetly comic ode to American male slob-hood and a new incarnation of his work can currently be enjoyed in a limited engagement at Bridgeport’s Downtown Cabaret Theatre.

Only by the most casual of definitions could Defending the Caveman be considered a “play.” Becker’s observations about the distinct differences between men and women are very much in the tradition of stand-up comedy going all the way back to Henny Youngman’s “take my wife” routine. It is to Becker’s credit that he has parlayed some very familiar observations about the battle-of-the-sexes into such a crowd-pleasing evening of entertainment. A debate about the correct way to install a roll of toilet paper would not be out of place in Defending the Caveman.

And, yet, it is probably this universal knowledge about a man’s behavior when he takes up living quarters with the opposite sex that makes Caveman such innocent and affectionate fun. The role, as written, apparently fit Becker like a catcher’s mitt. Subsequent performers in the role like Michael Chiklis and Jim Belushi were of the same physical type -- guys who look very comfortable with a beer in one hand and the TV remote control in another. 

At the Cabaret Paul Perroni holds court in the role and given that the actor is young, trim and attractive one might think he had a disadvantage playing the slob-in-residence. But Perroni wisely uses his charisma the best way possible: he’s attractive to women but non-threatening to men. With his slight southern accent and melodious baritone, Perroni lays out his personal battle-of-the-sexes in winning style. Utilizing just a few Fred Flintstone-style props on stage – a caveman spear, his beloved television – the actor gives an agreeable and accomplished performance. He is also an expert pantomime never funnier or more on-target then when he’s demonstrating the precise action of how women check out a rack of clothes.

And while Caveman offers absolutely nothing new and relies almost entirely on the most basic of familiar man vs. woman observations, it doesn’t mean that it still isn’t funny. Or true. The division of the sexes into “hunters and gatherers” categories has been dissected with both heart and humor in Caveman and as Becker explores what it really means to be a man, the play even achieves a kind of crazy wisdom and bittersweet insight by final curtain.

Defending the Caveman continues at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport through Sunday, Jan. 22. For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203-576-1636 or visit: www.downtowncabaret.org.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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