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In the shadow of the lady-quartet musical in the larger space next door, Defending the Caveman enjoys far more modest surroundings. Booking these shows together is an interesting exercise — it's almost as though the glossy Who-ville is incomplete without a Grinch grumbling in his cave on Mt. Crumpet. Yet however amusing, such comparison belies the curious warmth of this one-man show currently in rotation at the Century Theatre.

The short two-act play begins with a wordless video montage, a series of vignettes featuring performer Ben Tedder and his wife. Its content correctly predicts that the show is not about to break new ground in its exploration of the sexes: Man like grill. Woman like shop. Like much of the subject matter covered, the video is cute but predictable. The Rob Becker–penned script puts forward, amid a bare setting generously inspired by cave paintings and the Flintstones, the theory that men and women are still rooted in our hunter-gatherer pasts. As hunters, men focus on one thing (spoiler: it's TV) to the exclusion of anything else; as gatherers, women collect information on their surroundings and make it their business to be aware of everything. It's almost as if men were from Mars, and women from Venus! Given a topic that's been done to death, the production counts on Tedder's performance to sell it, and he wins over the audience with ease.

The combination of observational humor and solo performance begs a comparison to stand-up comedy; indeed, the actor's grip on downstage center implies he's capitalizing on the similarity. However, with stand-up material being so personal and close to its source, Tedder deserves accolades for successfully making Becker's material his own. As he falls into stereotypical characterizations and engages with the show's light framework, the energy and devotion Tedder puts into the material is as fierce as though he created it himself, a conviction that serves the show well. Acoustics are wisely amplified by a body microphone; the drawback of its seminar-like distancing was more than made up for by hearing every word clearly.

Perhaps the most important thing about this show is the genuine respect and admiration with which Becker treats both sexes. He may make light of our tendencies and shortcomings, but never devolves into alienating derision: Nag, nag, nag, am I right fellas? has no place here. For example, in an explanation of how his wife knows where everything belongs, Tedder clearly appreciates that without her vigilance, he'd probably be wearing just one shoe. Indeed, his impressions and observations inspired loads of pointed looks, gentle elbowing, and murmured commentary from the many couples in attendance. I found it especially interesting that some material about sex, which is usually good for hearty laughs, actually garnered less of a response, as people were reluctant to outwardly identify with such a private topic.

The program for Defending the Caveman is extremely sparse, with only a handful of names; therefore, I can't identify the director or most of the designers. Michael Rollin, Scot Cleaveland, and Sandy Rollin did fine work backstage, especially given the challenges of weekly rotation with The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron? — the details of Caveman suggest it's the only production to inhabit the space. In all, this is an honest little show, rooted by a gifted performer, that brings welcome affection to an ancient divide.


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