It's one thing to reduce the complexities of gender differences to hunters and gatherers in a comedy show and quite another to attempt therapy with people based on such facile generalizations. Benningfield agrees that Becker's categories are simplistic, yet she sees them as helpful in promoting understanding. "People are looking for explanations. In relationships, if people can find explanations that are not entirely personalized, oftentimes they find them more acceptable. 'He's not doing this to me personally, he's doing this because he's a male and males do things like this.' That framework from the show helps cut down how reactive people can be, which is often the source of a lot of tension."

In promotional pictures the goofy-expressioned Becker sits alongside a Stone Age-style television, holding a spear, wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and work boots and letting his slight paunch hang out. He looks like a contemporary cross between Fred Flintstone and Ralph Cramden. Over the phone he sounds sweet and unassuming. He insists that, despite the fact that his show's title suggests a defense of all thing brutishly male, Caveman is an affectionate comedy that heals the rifts between people. In the work he argues that men and women shouldn't try to be more like each other; they should try to understand their differences and accept each other without judgment.

Caveman has been taken to task for being little more than an extended stand-up routine. Hearing this, Becker's sweetness turns sour. "I've been amazed to hear that people who are supposed to know a lot about theater will make an ignorant comment like that."

Although the piece is performed without an intermission, Becker explains that he structured the work "in three acts, including a setup, confrontation, and resolution. I've created characters -- myself, my wife and several others -- who carry my theme forward throughout. I introduce the idea during the first 25 minutes that there's a lot of anger toward men, a lot of anger between men and women, a lot of confusion, and so forth. The second act is where I explore the two different cultures and have a visit from an older and wiser caveman, and the third act is where I resolve everything and say that I think we need to explore each other's worlds without judging them."

Becker has handed his New York baton to Michael Chiklis (star of television's The Commish), who will perform the role on Broadway while Becker hits the road. You can see for yourself if the caveman needs defending as Becker kicks off a national tour in South Florida. If the show slays you and you have kids, you can start gearing up for the next Becker event. Once the dust settles from this current success, Becker plans a new play based on life with his two toddlers. That one's to be called Cave Dad.

Defending the Caveman. Written and performed by Rob Becker. Through January 19 at the Jackie Gleason Theater of the Performing Arts. January 21 through 26 at the Parker Playhouse. For information, call 673-7300 or see "Calendar Listings.

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