“When I read the script I knew right away I would be cast,” confides Burke. He developed his own approach, not even seeing Becker’s production until well into the competitive audition process.
“I bring a different energy to the role,” Burke says. “Rob is a laid-back Northern California dude, and I’m a hyper, Midwestern spazz.” He attributes the animated physicality of his performance to the year he spent as a clown for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, an intense interlude between being a struggling actor with a theater degree and launching a career in stand-up comedy.
Perhaps it’s the timelessness of the subject, but the 13-year-old script has held up well, the only changes in Burke’s lines being the personal references. “Its universal material,” Burke says. “There’s an ideal that people discover each other, get married and essentially form one gender. Rob saw that it’s really not possible.”
Becker’s realization not only predated mass-market examinations of gender differences like “Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus,” but explored the subject in a far more interesting and nuanced way. He also gets more laughs. “We were hunter-gatherers for thousands and thousands of years,” says Burke, whose college minor was anthropology. “Compared to that, we’ve only been civilized for an eye blink.”
Playing the cave man has become Burke’s career, with full touring seasons interrupted only by summer breaks. “I’d be happy to be Yul Brynner [whose “The King and I” king was a lifetime role] and do this ‘till I’m 75 and then drop dead.”
It’s a long-term peacemaking mission in what James Thurber called “the war between men and women.” “We can’t guarantee that couples won’t fight again after seeing the show,” says Burke. “But at least the fights will be funnier.” — Peter McElhinney
“Defending the Caveman” comes to the Carpenter Center, June 4,5,6. Tickets cost $37-$47 and can be purchased online at ticketmaster.com or by calling 262-8100.
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