`Caveman' creator is ready for his act to evolve

March 18, 2003|By SUSAN REIMER

ROB BECKER, the loveable lug of the one-man show Defending the Caveman, is heading back into his cave after more than a decade spent on tour helping men and women understand that they can't help the way they are: Anthropology is destiny.

Becker will make his last stop in Baltimore from March 28 to 30 at the Lyric Opera House as part of a yearlong farewell tour. Then he will return to his wife, Erin, and three kids in Marin County, Calif., where he will polish the next act in his life: Defending the Cave Dad.

"I wanted one more time around," says Becker. "I have had so much fun in these cities. It would be weird to retire the show without saying anything."

Baltimore was Becker's first stop after his show ended a record-breaking run on Broadway in 1997. Here began a series of sold-out performances all over the country. Everywhere, audiences eagerly accepted his barstool scholarship:

"For millions of years, men were the hunters and women were the gatherers. Hunters would narrow their focus and lock in on their prey, to the exclusion of everything else in the world, until it was dead," he says in the show. "For example, men don't just watch TV, they become the TV, which explains why men don't hear a woman walk into a room and try to start a conversation."

This single focus explains a great deal of men's behavior, Becker says, a fact that women in his audience find both a great revelation and a huge relief. Couples who barely spoke in the car on the way to the theater leave laughing and holding hands.

Having saved a nation of marriages, one theater at a time, Becker has decided to retire the show at its peak - he feels like he is performing better than ever - and contemplate the origins of the differences between mothers and fathers.

For example, Becker has observed that women tend to approach a child with their palms down - a gesture signifying calm and restraint.

"But men go at kids with their palms up - revving things up. It is an invitation to play."

Mothers respond irritably to this and accuse the father of "winding them up." Becker's defense, he says, is "I wear them out."

Either way - calming, palms-down Mom or super-charged, palms-up Dad - the kids are eventually ready for sleep.

"Both ways work," says Becker. "But my method is always under suspicion and the assumption is that it is wrong and must be defended.

"But all that rough play helps children develop. I believe it is a prehistoric urge."

Becker's dime-store Darwinism charms both sexes because he doesn't make the blunt-force case that men are right and women are nags. He pleads only for understanding - men are different, but that doesn't mean they are wrong.

The material for Cave Dad has been percolating inside Becker's head for a while. After all, son Cal, 10, daughter McKenna, 8, and their baby sister Tierney, 5, have been putting him through his paces every time he returns from a couple of weeks on the road.

Even in the briefest interview, he will try out new material.

"Erin and I grew up in Northern California in the '70s, and, of course, we wanted to keep stuff away from our children that we were sure they were really gonna like: guns and dolls."

One Christmas, rather than give each child a sexually stereotypical gift, the Beckers gave both Cal and McKenna a tool set and a doll.

"Our son pulled the head off the doll and used it to bash things. And our daughter tucked her hammer into bed."

After he performs Caveman for the last time, Becker says he will return home to Marin County and be a Little League coach, spending three or four years gathering material to support his theory that men and women can trace their styles as parents to a time when men were hunters and women were gatherers.

"I feel like I have another show in me, but I need to be a father for a little while first."

He's hoping for the same laughter and the same communal sigh of relief that has been the overwhelming response to Caveman.

"Kind of like, `Whew, our kids are OK.'

"Even if one of them spends six months pretending to be a dog. "

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