Arts & Culture » Culture

Caveman to everyman

“Every guy’s had the experience of being on a date ... being quiet for a minute, and having his date say, ‘What’s wrong?’” Sound familiar?

So will the other slice-of-real-life experiences Rob Becker activates in his one-man/everyman show, Defending the Caveman, now at the Fisher Theatre. On stage, Becker is a guy obsessed with the archetypal caveman, and by embracing his beginnings, he’s able to better understand the present (and timeless) states and struggles of relationships.

Back in the ’80s, Becker was dissatisfied with performing stand-up.

“You can leave them tired, you know, you can leave their faces hurting even, but it’s hard to really affect anybody emotionally. I was a big admirer of Woody Allen and how he had taken his stand-up and developed it into films. So I started reading up on how to write screenplays, and that led to books on how to write plays, and that led to books on fairy tales and mythology ... and this book by Joseph Campbell.” Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces is now recommended reading for budding screenwriters, and it provided Becker with the structure his shtick needed. He did his research and ended up with the longest-running solo play in Broadway history by applying and utilizing prehistoric hunter-gatherer archetypes to break down male-female stereotypes.

“The stereotype is that men don’t like to be in relationships ... the truth is he’s trying to be in a different kind of relationship.”

In Becker’s world, there’s no need for the sexes to battle anymore, because all of us want to make a connection. We just keep running into a culture clash because our first set of customs and rituals comes from interacting with our own sex.

“Men and women make relationships and maintain relationships very very differently. I could always see that the way that the girls made relationships was different from the way that the guys did ... but I grew up in the ’70s, so I learned to pretend like that wasn’t true. Then in our marriage, we’re fighting and I can’t hold back anymore. So one day I said, ‘You know, I just think we’re different. I think we’re like two different cultures.”

According to Becker, when you think you’re supposed to be alike and you’re fighting, “that means somebody’s not with the program.” It also means that somebody’s wrong and must change. But if you accept that you’re different, you just need a translator to smooth things over. And although it’s still under speculation whether or not cavemen did stand-up, humor is the perfect tool to bridge that gender gap.

“For example, I was taking her out for a date. So we’re driving out, and she turns to me and says, ‘How do I look?’ I looked over and I said, ‘You look great!’ She goes, ‘Well how come you didn’t say so?’ I said, ‘I just did! I just told you you look great, it was only a second ago!’ So here we are two minutes into this date and we’re fighting. I said, ‘Let’s not fight, let’s see if we can figure this out.’”

Becker says women expect compliments on their appearance because that’s what they do when they get together.

“You don’t do that with guys. You don’t pick another guy up, ‘Chuck, your bum looks good in those jeans, get in the car.’ ... If I do get a new shirt, I don’t even want the guys to notice, because I’ll be ‘Shirt Boy’ all day.”

Becker and his wife took the time to examine their reactions, and the results?

“We’re laughing — we’re not fighting anymore. We seem a lot closer. … From then on, every time we started to have a fight, instead of fighting I would say, ‘Let’s see if we can figure this out based on my theory.’ So we started having these wonderful discussions.”

By discovering the source of their misunderstandings, Becker’s discussions with his wife unearthed universal truths and gave birth to a very insightful caveman.

Metro Times: So we’re all gonna have epiphanies right?

Becker: Not just one epiphany ... a whole bunch of ’em.

Rob Becker’s Defending the Caveman
Through April 29
The Fisher Theatre
3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit.
Wednesdays through Fridays, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2, 5 and 8 p.m. Sundays, 3 and 7 p.m. No shows Monday or Tuesday. Tickets at the Fisher Box Office and all Ticketmaster outlets — or call 248-645-6666. For more info, call 313-872-1000.

Anita Schmaltz writes about theater for the Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com

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