All alone on stage, John Venable makes “Defending the Caveman” look easy, and sometimes almost effortless. The recognition factor and a balanced approach were just two of the reasons for the appeal of the Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre production of Rob Becker's one-man show, which became the longest running solo play in Broadway history, after opening there in 1995.
Informally dressed in his “man-cave” living room, furnished with what looked like a rock easy chair, rock television set and cheesy copies of cave art, Venable had the laid-back charm of a blue-collar comedian, maybe with a little bit of a redneck, who was almost impossible not to like.
A brief video, followed by a story about a cave man appearing to him, as if in a dream, bracketed and set the stage for what amounted to an extended, easygoing, standup comedy routine and jazzlike riff, from prehistory to the present, on the “war between the sexes,” in which he gave “tough love” to both genders.
At the heart of many of the jokes was the contrast between women as “gatherers,” who like shopping, cleaning, collecting objects and talking with their many friends, and men as “hunters,” pointing the TV remote like a spear, and preferring sports, like fishing or baseball, that require few words.
Further embellishing this fundamental contrast was the notion of women's culture being one of cooperation and men's being one of negotiation, a subject that reached a point of humorous absurdity in a story about nobody moving as men discuss who will get up to replenish a bowl of chips.
Other touchy areas covered comically by Venable included female versus male attitudes toward compliments and the question of whether women are “hindered by logic.” Venable dealt with the more risque topics of men and women's often contradictory anatomy and needs after intermission, as well as places of male refuge, like the garage, shed and bathroom, in the latter of which men may be warned not to touch the best towels, reserved for company.
Returning to prehistory toward the end of the show, Venable ended on a positive note, pointing out that women are still magical, as they have been since people lived in caves, and one of man's jobs is to give them a safe place to do their magic.
Even more touching was an exchange with members of the audience after the play was over, in which he told them how one woman told him the show made her fall “in love with her husband all over again,” and that woman was his wife.
— John Brandenburg
‘Defending the Caveman'