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DEFENDING THE CAVEMAN (article first published : 1999-08-13)

Following hard on the heels of the Playhouse Company’s Women’s Festival, Tim Plewman comes along to give the men a break with Pieter Toerien’s production of Defending the Caveman. Originally written – and still being performed – by Rob Becker, the play has been seen by over a million people in America. This hilarious analysis of the sexes is the result of Becker’s informal study of anthropology, prehistory, psychology, sociology and mythology as well as dramatic structure and playwriting.

The production running in The Playhouse Drama until September 5 has been directed by South Africa’s master of comedy, Rex Garner, and adapted by Tim to give it a “South African flavour”. The Garner/Plewman mix results in a powerful and attention-grabbing solo performance of impeccable comedy timing.

After opening the show and having cleared up certain words like chommie, mal, skeem, oke and noombies for any non-South African speaking members of the audience, Tim Plewman launches into an unbeatable tour de force performance. Although, in a venue like the Drama which has such fine acoustics, it is a little disconcerting to see such an experienced actor using a microphone but he explains that the show is so vocally demanding that he would have no voice left if he didn’t have technical assistance.

He should know, he’s done the show often enough having played to 390 sold-out performances since its first appearance in September 1997 at Cape Town’s Theatre on the Bay. He’s taken it back to Cape Town 14 times where he’s also played the 1200-seater Nico Malan (again to sell-out performances) and next Thursday’s show (August 19) will be the 400th performance!

Apart from a tiger’s skin, the stage is adorned with a TV set topped with bones for aerials, a small wooden crate and a chair hewn out of rock. A side table covered with a leopard skin tablecloth supports a skull ashtray. Suspended at the back of the stage are images in Bushman art style and Tim proceeds to explain two of them – in one, woman is depicted as the archetype goddess, ever pregnant, while another shows a prone man. Here is the protector, the provider – although what he’s doing lying in front of a vast figure of a bison is wide open to interpretation!

It takes a while for the action to get beyond the snappy one-liner stage into the swing of things but then a chance remark at a remembered party: “Why are all men assholes?” sees the character (Tim) scuttling off to the kitchen to avoid providing an answer. Here he undergoes a life-altering experience as he is catapulted in time back to the world of the caveman. When he is deposited back into the present he finds himself enlightened with new knowledge: men and women make up different cultures, they speak a different language and their life philosophies are different. Women believe in “co-operation” while men adhere to the doctrine of “negotiation”. Men hunt and focus on their goal (usually television) to the exclusion of all else while women are gatherers (wandering, shopping or gossiping).

Memorable lines there are a-plenty such as “the cave woman discovered the calendar” or “a woman speaks 7000 words in a day, a man only 2000! That’s why, when he’s used them up – he’s got nothing else to say!”

Rob Becker has utilised his powers of observation and understanding of the sexes and their foibles well in this play and, judging by the audience reactions, he often hits home! While never seen, the character’s wife Erin (actually Rob Becker’s wife) plays a major role and the action occasionally calms to gentleness as he desperately tries to understand her world while inviting her to come into his and “participate without judgement.”

Book now at Computicket for this hilarious and delicious evening of entertainment. (There will be no performance on August 15).


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