Imagine you’re a 20something male living with your longtime best buddy and the tax season is drawing near. As you scan down the seemingly endless list of federal tax rules and regulations, you come to the realization that you’re paying loads more taxes simply because your roommate isn’t a woman and your wife. Then it dawns on you. Since your best friend is lucky enough to have one of those unisex names (like Ashley, Kelly, Tracy, Robin, or in this case Leslie), you suddenly realize how easy it would be simply to check F instead of M on Leslie’s tax return, and married instead of single on both of your returns. Voila, you’re saving a ton of money that Uncle Sam would otherwise pocket and do who knows what with.

This is precisely what sets the farcical ball in motion in William Van Zandt and Jane Millmore’s outrageous (and outrageously funny) 1979 comedy Love, Sex, & The I.R.S., now providing an abundance of laughs in theTRIBE Productions’ tip-top revival at the Dorie Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard’s Theatre Row.

Economizing on taxes isn’t the only problem faced by our hapless hero Jon (Nathaniel Dobies) and his unsuspecting roommate Leslie (Bret Columbo). There’s also the not-so-small matter of the secret canoodling Jon has been doing with Leslie’s fiancée Kate (Tamara Lynn Davis) over the past week—with the wedding only seven days away. Add to that a phone call from the I.R.S. informing Jon that he’s about to receive a visit from auditor Floyd Spinner (George Cummings), and you’ve got a recipe for mayhem and madness in the TV sitcom tradition of Three’s Company.

Jon’s solution to his most pressing dilemma (he’ll leave telling Leslie about his affair with Kate till later) is to get Leslie into makeup, a dress, a wig, pantyhose, and high heels and pretending to be Mrs. Jon Trachtman in time for Mr. Spinner’s visit. In the same way Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari managed somehow to pass as female in TV’s Bosom Buddies, much of the fun of Love, Sex, & The I.R.S. comes from its supporting characters’ absolute cluelessness that the big, hairy, five o’clock-shadowed Leslie is anything other than an unfortunate-looking member of the “weaker” sex.

Don’t look for subtlety, sophistication, or political correctness in Van Zandt and Millmore’s script. Spinner commiserates with Jon by declaring that Leslie is “a nice lady and all that…but…how shall I put it? Woof. Woof.” Kate substitutes Limburger cheese for smelling salts when Jon’s mother faints at the sight of a horrific Leslie in drag. When Leslie’s girlfriend sees him for the first time dressed as a woman of sorts, Leslie explains, “I just came out of the closet”—because that’s where he was hiding till the coast was clear.

No indeedy. Subtlety, sophistication, and political correctness aren’t anywhere to be seen or heard in Love, Sex, & The I.R.S., and you know what? It matters no more here than it did when Jack roomed with Janet and Chrissy in Three’s Company or when Kip and Henry donned women’s wear in Bosom Buddies.

Director Christopher Chase has clearly done his 1970s farce homework, both he and his cast nailing the sitcom style that John Ritter, Suzanne Somers, and Joyce DeWitt did so well in that ‘70s show, and giving the entire production exactly the look and sound of its September 1979 setting.

Despite the outlandishness that surrounds them (and which they are a part of), Dobies and Columbo (the latter a cross between Ritter and Ashton Kutcher) manage to come across believably as longtime best friends. In addition, the duo prove equally adept at timing and (Dobies particularly) at some of the most strenuous physical comedy you’re likely to see all year. Davis is a terrific comedienne whose resemblance to breakout ‘70s TV star Farrah Fawcett is not only ideal for the show’s 1979 timeframe, but yields rewards in an inspired bit of Act Two business. (Pay close attention to Davis and the iconic Farrah poster, one of Chase’s spot-on 1970s set design choices.)

Sally Richter milks many laughs from the role of Vivian, Jon’s steamroller of a mother, though a woman who drinks as much as Vivian imbibes in the course of ten or fifteen minutes would not appear stone cold sober ten or fifteen minutes later as Richter does. Barry Agin couldn’t be better as what the playwrights describe as “a beer-bellied drunk of a landlord” and luscious Carole Catanzaro is a delight as Leslie’s girlfriend Connie, whose eleventh hour arrival further complicates the already twisted plot. Finally, in an absolute gem of a performance, Cummings plays persnickety, matrimonially cursed I.R.S. agent Spinner to a comedic perfection made even more noteworthy by the fact that the Santa Clarita Valley favorite stepped into the role as a last minute replacement.

Scenic designer Chase has filled Jon and Leslie’s nifty bachelor pad with ‘70s paraphernalia galore—board games like Battleship and Clue, Star Wars posters, and cans and cans of Tab (with only the barcodes showing that they aren’t quite the real thing). Tom Lund’s lighting is appropriately vibrant in fitting with the set’s bright ‘70s hues. The uncredited sound design further situates us smack-dab in the disco era of Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” and Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell.” Sharon Lasky Simon’s makeup and hair are also timeframe-apt. Best of all are Chase’s nostalgic costume designs (be sure to check the program’s next-to-last page for the actual ‘70s outfits that inspired them), with a special nod to the orange top/flair jeans ensemble worn by Charlie’s Angel’s Jill Munroe (Fawcett) in a famed skateboard chase sequence through Griffith Park and by Kate (Davis) in Love, Sex, & The I.R.S.

Rachel Westlake is stage manager, Alexandria Hauck house manager, and Tiffany Oliver production coordinator.

theTRIBE’s production of Love, Sex, & The I.R.S. is under-the-radar L.A. intimate theater at its best, ninety-minutes of farcical pandemonium likely to keep comedy lovers entirely entertained from its fast and furious opening scenes to its thoroughly professional curtain calls.

The Dorie Theatre in THE COMPLEX, 6476 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood.
–Steven Stanley
January 7, 2011

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