A (very) late report on ‘Defending the Caveman’

Obviously any piece of comic material that has been performed continuously for 20 years has to have a lot going for it.

But it was still a very pleasant surprise to have such a good time watching Paul Perroni perform the Rob Becker piece “Defending the Caveman” at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport last weekend.

While the show ran and ran on Broadway in the mid-1990s — with Becker starring in it — I resisted, thinking that “Caveman” must be just a younger guy’s version of a Jackie Mason-style nightclub-act-disguised-as-a-Broadway-show.

The durability of the material was proven, however, after Becker stopped appearing in “Caveman” and audiences continued to enjoy it with other performers.

Becker succeeded where other solo artists, like Lily Tomlin and Eric Bogosian, have not, in sending his vehicle off into the theater world without his participation (I know that there have been occasional presentations of Tomlin’s “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe” by other performers, but not on the scale of “Defending the Caveman”).

The reason for the enduring appeal of “Caveman” was evident within a few moments of Perroni’s arrival on stage — the young actor was able to take possession of the material the same way he might with any other play.

For the 90 minutes or so he was on stage, we believed “Paul” was giving us his theories on the differences between men and women that have not changed since prehistoric times.

As played by Perroni, “Caveman” had a present-tense quality that belied the fact that Becker first started working on a rough version of the show in 1987 which he polished for more than three years before it took the form of its current incarnation.

Perroni makes us believe he is talking about his life — and his wife — as he kvetches about the way men and women shop, watch television, and hang out with their best friends. It’s the same sort of “nothing” that “Seinfeld” made hay out of for a decade on television — i.e. shocks of hilarious recognition about the tiniest quirks in human behavior.

Perroni physicalizes “Caveman” by working the whole stage of the Bridgeport venue and acting out scenes about his wife and his friends in a manner that takes the evening way beyond the realm of stand-up comedy.

The show becomes an acting piece in the same way that the David Sedaris monologue “The Santaland Diaries” became a play in the hands of fine actors like Timothy Olyphant and Thomas Sadoski.

(For information on this weekend’s performances, go to www.dtcab.com)