Men behaving badly
Love, Sex and the IRS
Love, Sex and the IRS is the kind of manic comedy that’s well-suited to a student production because it relies so heavily on nervous energy. This play, directed by student Angela Sonner and produced by the UNR School of the Arts, is a funny, if not particularly original, farce that uses reliable comedic motifs of the embarrassing-behavior sort: dressing in drag, drunken rampaging, slapping people around, high-pitched screaming, insecure mumbling and general failures to communicate.
The set-up for the play, written by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, is a simple premise that, because of deceptions and miscommunications, quickly spirals out of control. Jon (Patrick Donahue) is attempting to con the IRS by claiming that his male roommate with the sexually ambiguous name Leslie (Bryan Jones) is his wife. He files a joint tax return as a way of saving a few bucks. When an IRS investigator named Floyd Spinner (Don Brennan) comes to their apartment, the two attempt to sustain the fraud by dressing Leslie as a woman and getting the stiff-necked taxman drunk. The situation gets messier with the arrival of other characters, like Jon’s mom (Liz Weiss), who mistakes Leslie for Jon’s actual fiancée, Kate (Emily Anderson); and Mr. Jansen (Aukai Almeida), the misogynistic property manager.
It’s an ensemble comedy, but Jon is the play’s central character and the instigator of most of the ever-complicating series of lies and deceptions. Donahue’s performance is likable though rather superficial. He doesn’t appear to be very upset, for example, when he catches his fiancée and his supposed best friend in flagrante delicto. But this is just a light-hearted romp, so who cares about these characters’ feelings anyway?
The most important thing in a comedy like this is the rhythm and timing. The comedic engine here is revved a bit high. It’s all high volume and fast-paced. There’s a lot of running in and out and slamming doors. Some of the dialogue feels a bit rushed, but there are some great moments. Brennan, as the creepy and awkward taxman, is good at looking stodgy and confused, and Jones, speaking in a grating falsetto but managing the high heels gracefully, gets some easy laughs. Almeida, in a smaller role as the beer-drinking, woman-hating, tough-guy property manager, is very funny, delivering some of the play’s best lines, like “You’re my kind of woman: drunk.”
The performance I saw was an “undressed” rehearsal, so I can’t really comment on the costumes or the set. There are the usual limitations of a student performance: it’s given in an unappealing basement classroom, and there are young actors cast as age-inappropriate characters. Weiss, for example, in a fiesty performance as Jon’s mother, looks like she might be younger than he is. But these limitations are easy to overlook.
The comedy here is based on shallow people behaving badly and communicating poorly. It’s sitcom-style humor that’s as often frustrating as it is funny. Not all of it works, and the performance tends to falter when it veers away from high-revving slapstick hysterics, but this is probably a problem with the material. At times, the performance seems uncomfortable by design, other times, by accident. But the ensemble manages to convey most of the quick, jokey dialogue, and there are plenty of belly-laugh moments, as when Jon’s petite mother gleefully slaps the leering, drunken taxman.