Cooking the books

How long until Love, Sex & the IRS collide?
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  April 14, 2010

FOOLING THE TAX MAN How hard can it be? 

Tax season got you feeling screwed? How about a little schadenfreude: Chances are Jon (Christian F. Luening) has it a lot worse and more embarrassing than you in Love, Sex & the IRS, the 1979 comedy by William Van Zandt and Jane Milmore. He’s just been caught taking brazenly fraudulent advantage not of books-cooking techniques, but the conveniently androgynous given name of his roommate, Leslie (Caleb Wilson). Theirs has been a “marriage” of financial expedience for the last four years, but now the game is up, and the IRS is sending over their guy Floyd Spinner (Jaimie Schwartz) to inspect the apartment — and the “wife” — for any evidence of excess testosterone. Obviously, the only logical solution involves Leslie donning a wig and a double-D bra stuffed with socks in this loud and irreverent romp, directed by Jeff Wax for the Old Port Playhouse.

To complicate things further, Leslie is dissembling not just to the tax man, but also to his best buddy Jon, with whose fiancée Kate (the Phoenix’s own Deirdre Fulton) he’s been getting increasingly horizontal. Add in a landlord (David Branch, doing some great character work in a wife-beater) who explicitly prohibits opposite-sex co-habitation, an impromptu visit by Jon’s no-nonsense, former-New Yorker mother (Leslie Trentalange), and the hysterics of Leslie’s very blonde girlfriend Connie (Sara Janelle), and you have the cross-purposes, deceits, and situational comedy of a quintessentially ’70s farce — sort of an As You Like It via Three’s Company.

But don’t go expecting any disco-era Jacques to intone wisdom about life and death (or, for that matter, about taxes): Love, Sex & the IRS is pure, unabashed, escapist slapstick. The closest you’ll get to cultural commentary is the much-maligned tax man Spinner remembering a tea bag that a disgruntled taxpayer once stuck to the seat of his pants (“Some people think they’re so original,” he sneers). Instead, be prepared for loose, bouncy Wilson, who has the energy of the Energizer bunny, putting on an aggressive falsetto and a series of house-dresses that seem strategically chosen to reveal a maximum of body hair. As his blonde and beleaguered straight-man, Luening ably enables the chaos, and if your comedic druthers run to splayed male limbs in hose and innuendo-laden dramatic ironies (including one that involves a hockey mask misunderstood as a marital aid), this show may well comically relieve you of your tax woes.

Director Jeff Wax updates the script for the 2010 tax season with a peppering of allusions to Tiger Woods and other modern calamities, but the comic ethos remains firmly planted in the ’70s: Anyone who grew up watching John Ritter’s simpering evasions of Mr. Roper will have a flashback or two before the evening is through.

Given what now feels like the era’s rather coarse stereotypes of women, it’s refreshing that the women in this show provide the anchoring needed to counterbalance all the high-flying antics. Fulton and Trentalange both have grounded, sharp, and exasperated wits that play beautifully amid the shrill humor of all the cross-dressing gags.

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