Since time immemorial — way, way back when cavemen went out hunting and cavewomen did the gathering, or so we’re told — the differences between men and women have inspired a certain kind of theatrical fare.
John Gray’s monster best seller “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” was adapted by Eric Coble into a solo show. Rob Becker’s one-person “Defending the Caveman” took its laughs and gender observations to Broadway. The musical “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” by Joe DiPietro and Jimmy Roberts had an Off-Broadway run of more than 5,000 performances and has been done all over the country — Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables has produced that show four times.
Now the company is aiming to add to the genre with “Defending the Cavewoman,” a solo show starring Carbonell Award winner Lindsey Corey.
Running in the Balcony Theatre at the Miracle through Sunday, Aug. 6, the 2000 comedy by South African playwright Emma Peirson has had a little work done (theatrical Botox?) for its United States premiere, with the hope that this piece might become another much-produced success like the ones referenced above.
At this point, it’s not clear how aspirations for the show might play out (the producers who licensed it to Actors’ Playhouse are Theater Mogul and GFour Productions).
Theater fans who like their entertainment light and relatable go for shows like “Defending the Cavewoman” because men and women often do see things differently. We are all individuals, of course, and behavior isn’t clearly tied to gender or hormones.
But that hunter-gatherer stuff seems pretty hardwired.
“Defending the Cavewoman,” which was created by Peirson and Vanessa Frost, runs a brisk 85 minutes, with the script incorporating myriad influences. Nature documentaries, bombastic Oprah Winfrey-style TV, scenes of 10th anniversary domestic discord and the rhythms of standup comedy are all folded into “Cavewoman,” though they don’t always coexist smoothly, despite the imaginative efforts of director David Arisco, the design team and the abundantly impressive, irresistible Corey.
The play’s prologue flips the script on the Adam and Eve story. God (voiced Oprah-style by Kareema Khouri who, along with Carlos Alayeto and Laura Turnbull, supplies brief interludes of recorded lines) creates Eve first, only to leave her feeling lonely in the lush Garden of Eden.
She asks for a companion and God complies, but as it turns out, this sequence is a setup for the play’s first big woman-to-man shot. Revealing that here would be a spoiler, and spoilers are bad.
Then “Defending the Cavewoman” gets down to contemporary business.
Corey, who flips into and out of more than a dozen characters, chiefly plays Evelyn, a wife and mother who the day before celebrated her 10th anniversary with her husband Chris. The special day, she notes, was marked by one crisis after another as she frenetically tried to rally her troops — Chris and the kids — to get the house ready for a celebratory family brunch.
Among the crises: She forgot to order food from the caterers (yes, she says defensively, she can cook – well, maybe that’s not quite true).
The family dog with an amusing name (not spoiling that one either) has to be rushed to the hunky fantasy-stirring vet after vomiting all over Evelyn, who can’t change her curve-hugging leopard print party dress because the zipper is immovably stuck.
After the brunch and a whole lot of snark from her mother-in-law Hillary, Evelyn realizes the youngest kid has a karate class that afternoon. The family rushes to the mall to get his gear (Chris’s only assignment while Evelyn gathers many other items), but Daddy gets distracted by the sounds and myriad screens in the electronics section.
And so it goes in “Defending the Cavewoman” and Evelyn’s world.
The play is full of pointed observations twisted for comic effect, such as: Maybe serial killers are really normal people on low-carb diets. Maybe Evelyn can tell Chris (from memory) exactly where his favorite cheese is in the fridge, even though he has “looked” and can’t find it.
Maybe the anniversary dress Chris ordered for Evelyn looked different in the photo because the Amazonian model was wearing a size 0, while Evelyn (with the help of Spanx so tight her internal organs are screaming) is squeezed into a size 8.
Corey, it must be noted, is so slender and fit that the model would likely envy her. The actor is a deft comedienne, a killer singer, a talent who can make dancing funny. At this point early in the run, she has fleeting moments in which she smiles but looks just a tad uncomfortable – maybe because the script occasionally still vacillates between theater and standup.
If plays were rated like movies, “Defending the Cavewoman” would probably get an NC-17, not for anything that takes place onstage but for language (the script is loaded with f-bombs) and verbal sexual content (among Evelyn’s anniversary gifts is a special set of balls that embarrassingly chime when she walks).
As with any solo show, it took a village to bring “Defending the Cavewoman” to life.
Arisco helped the actor hone her performance, with additional feedback from stage manager Amanda Corbin. Jodi Dellaventura created and dressed the set, co-designing projections that vitally enhance the storytelling with Natalie Taveras. Eric Nelson’s lighting helps transport Corey’s Evelyn and the audience from place to place.
Matt Corey, the star’s husband, uses his perfectly detailed soundscape to further bring Evelyn’s world and memories to life. Costume designer Ellis Tillman first puts Corey-as-Eve in a riotously colorful floor-length dress that makes her look like Mother Nature, then gets her into the curve-hugging leopard-print dress that (despite dialogue to the contrary) allows her to move so easily she can practically do contortions.
Sporting a dated long, big, curly wig, Corey must deliver certain lines that come off as more mean-spirited than funny — the fault of the script, not the actor. When Evelyn is imitating Chris, she sounds none too bright, and she’s only too happy to complain about his willingness to wear dirty clothes, his lack of effectiveness when it comes to cleaning, his flaws as an information gatherer when their friends are having marital woes.
Does “Defending the Cavewoman” resonate with an audience of men and women who know only too well the situations Evelyn describes? Yes, and at the end, Evelyn concedes that Chris is “one of the good ones.” But like our ancestors, the script needs to evolve if it is to join that list of hit battle-of-the-sexes shows.
WHAT: “Defending the Cavewoman” by Emma Peirson
WHERE: Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre’s Balcony Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 6
TICKETS: $40 to $125 (seniors 65 and older get 10 percent off weekdays only; students with valid student ID pay $15 for a rush ticket available 15 minutes before a weekday performance)
INFO: 305-444-9293 or actorsplayhouse.org
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