Every couple has its troubles: Jason and Medea, Beatrice and Benedick, Michael and Karen.
Michael and Karen?
Well, they’re the modern day duo at the heart of Rob Becker’s amusing one-man show “Defending the Caveman.”
Michael Van Osch is offering up a charming turn in this 1991 performance piece that explores the relationship between men and women, a relationship as old as cavepeople if we’re to believe Becker, whose resume includes studies in anthropology, psychology, and sociology, among other disciplines.
And indeed he uses the hunter-gatherer archetypes to explain why men and women have such trouble communicating. It’s not that men don’t want to have a good relationship with women. It’s just that they’re programmed so differently from women that they can’t help but screw things up.
The evening begins with a silent video clip of Michael and Karen at home, doing everyday activities: searching for clothes to wear, setting up the barbecue, watching television, etc. In each case, of course, Michael zeroes in on the task to be done (the single-minded hunter), while Karen considers the variables in decision-making (the alert gatherer).
From this simple dichotomy Becker explores the funny ways romantically involved men and women fail to connect.
Naturally, the guy comes up short most of the time, try as he might to do the right thing vis-a-vis the woman’s needs or desires. Along the way, however, Becker casts a gimlet eye on the “shortcomings” of the women’s world, and the end of the evening is a light-hearted meditation on the need for each gender to inhabit the other’s frame of reference.
The topics covered include fighting, conversing, shopping, logic, housekeeping, friendships and moral decision-making.
For example, Becker states that men use about 2,000 words a day, whereas women speak 7,000. No wonder when the husband comes home from work he doesn’t feel like talking: he’s used up his supply! His wife, however, still has a long way to go to reach her limit, and so the evening is full of miscommunication and frustration.
As Van Osch performs it, however, it’s a hoot.
The degree to which Becker touches on the truth in an academic sense is apparent in one little anecdote. That is, in fact, a famous psychological case called the Heinz dilemma, in which a man of modest means determines to steal expensive medicine from the druggist in order to save his critically ill wife. Meanwhile, a wife whose husband is sick instead goes to the druggist and explains the situation, hoping for understanding from the druggist, thus preserving relationships all around.
In other words, the show makes us chuckle for reasons our own experience and research studies about the sexes have proven to be true.
Van Osch is a first-rate actor, imbuing some of the predictable material with gusto. He pantomimes convincingly, takes on the voice/attitude of Karen with ease, times his delivery in synch with the audience’s response, and deadpans a la Benny. The script calls for a performer who can deliver Becker’s shrewd obeservations of society with a large dollop of self-deprecation, and in Van Osch, Becker has certainly found one.
Defending the Caveman
WHERE: GE Theatre at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Through Saturday
How MUCH: $40
MORE INFO: 346-6204