'Defending the Caveman': Broadway's longest-running solo
play coming to Livermore
By Lou Fancher
If relationships between men and women were as robust and durable as "Defending the Caveman," the longest-running solo play in Broadway history, well, let's just say divorce courts would be empty, a lot of tissues would go unused and male-female business partnerships would proliferate.
Twenty-five years after comedian Rob Becker wrote and debuted the solo show about the gulf between men and women -- opening in San Francisco in 1991 -- the play has been performed in 45 countries and 18 different languages.
No longer performed by Becker, the enterprise now boasts eight certified American Cavemen, one of whom is Kevin Burke, a 2013 Guinness World Record holder for 60 performances in 50 days.
The show is at the Bankhead Theater with Colorado-based Cody Lyman at the helm for a noteworthy four performances through Sunday. Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center Executive Director Scott Kenison says brisk advance ticket sales indicate the show's continued promise.
"Comedy sells," Kenison says, "particularly when it highlights the battle of the sexes. Everyone can relate to the difficulties and humor in living with the opposite sex, or for that matter, the same sex. It's universal."
But humor -- and the public understanding of differing communication styles between genders -- evolves, doesn't it? Won't a late-20th century sensibility seem dated? Unscientific? Or worse, might the show risk becoming a perpetuation of stereotyping that casts all men as Neanderthals and women as their pink-hued shadows?Kenison saw Becker perform the show "a lifetime ago" in New York and says "it all holds up." Comedy tends to attract a younger audience to the theater, he adds, and "Caveman's" subject matter broadens to appeal to all generations.
Lyman doesn't skirt the issue of relevance: He says he welcomes the opportunity to talk about it. People today are more versed in the science reference points of gender difference, he says, but increased awareness and knowledge doesn't reduce their enjoyment.
"The heart of this show is that we love each other. It's easy to get caught up and forget how you fell in love or why you're different but can still get along. Couples leave the show arm-in-arm. I'd be lying if I said some of the jokes you've never heard before, but we get reassured by the humor."
As an actor, Lyman appreciates the flip-flop he's tasked with making from lighthearted to more heartfelt moments.
"That's what sets it apart from straight stand-up acts," he says.
Once a respected baseball player and football star during his childhood in small-town Durango, Colorado, Cody found his future on stage while studying theater at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Improvisational theater is his forte, but it's only a small part of the "Caveman" shows.
"We have some freedom, but it's fairly tightly scripted" he says about the 90-minute show presented with minimal props. "With the five of us currently doing the show, there are five different versions. But I stick with what Rob wrote."
Joke doctors and directors occasionally brush up the acts. Over the years, a flat screen TV has replaced the Fred Flintstone-era television box and a few other updated knickknacks have been added. Honesty in performance and genuine storytelling skills have remained the show's priority, an emphasis made obvious during the audition process a Caveman must undergo.
"I was in Chicago, doing improv and children's theater," Lyman recalls, about his entry into "Caveman." "I was trying to up the bar and didn't know anything about the show."
After his first reading, Lyman and four "gigantic human beings, well-over six feet tall and 250 pounds" were invited for callbacks.
"My first thought was that I'd have to beef up," he says. "I was hired to learn the script in one month. It was a bear. I flew to Norman, Oklahoma, where there were seven of us who'd been hired to learn the script. It was like living in a submarine for a week."
Lyman was the only one hired. The number of shows he performs each year varies: In 2015, a six-month, six-shows-per-week stint kept him hopping. As a new father -- he and his wife have a five-and-a-half-month-old son whom he calls "a Caveman-in-training" -- he hopes not to put a dent in his Caveman calendar.
Raising a kid in the Rockies while doing the show reminds him to "wrap his head around marriage in a realistic way" and remember why people love each other, despite or even because of their differences.