Pictured from left to right: (front) Cary Wiger, Matt Street, Kiersten Vorheis, (back) Dick Baker, Brittany Carricato Cox. Photo: Derby Dinner Playhouse.
Love, Sex and The I.R.S.
By Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore
Directed by Jim Hesselman
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2018, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
I will confess I have a bit of a soft spot for the Van Zandt/Milmore comedy Love, Sex and the I.R.S. I first saw it at the Derby Dinner Playhouse probably 25-30 years ago (whenever it was they last performed it) and remember the belly laughs it gave me. A few years later, it was the first comedy I ever directed (this time at the Little Colonel Playhouse!). It’s not a perfect play by any means; the plot is not particularly well constructed and won’t hold up to much scrutiny, but the laughs it provides are frequent, genuine, and well earned.
Derby Dinner is reviving the show this month, and for the most part, it holds up well with my memories of it. Set in the 1970s, it tells the story of two straight platonic roommates, Jon and Leslie, best friends since college and each having difficulties with their respective girlfriends. Leslie (Matt Street) is beginning an affair with Jon (Dick Baker)’s fiancé Kate (Brittany Cox) while avoiding his own needy girlfriend Connie (Megan Johnson).
But the love triangle isn’t the main problem. Leslie has been letting Jon do his taxes every year, and Jon has been a little dishonest; since the name Leslie can be male or female, Jon has been filing his and Leslie’s taxes jointly, claiming that he and Leslie are a married couple, and now the I.R.S. is sending an auditor to see just what’s what. This results in Leslie having to cross-dress to play the role of the dutiful wife. The taxman, Mr. Spinner (Cary Wiger) is at first easily deceived, but, due to his own lonely heart issues, refuses to leave and makes himself at home in the apartment. Add in a suspicious landlord (J.R. Stuart) and the unexpected and untimely arrival of Jon’s unsuspecting mother (Kiersten Vorheis), and the chaotic setup for a classic stage farce erupts in full force.
The script by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore, TV sitcom writers responsible for a lot of lesser-known stage farces, is probably not indicative of the best the genre offers. Plot holes abound in the fast-paced story, but this type of show really lives or dies based on the strength of its cast and director, and it is well served here. The entire cast really gives it their all, and none of the performances fail.
Particularly strong is Dick Baker as Jon, the (ahem) straight man in the Jon/Leslie comedy duo, as he goes from strongly confident to comedic despair and into a dangerous rage, never losing the flawed character’s inherent likeability, with a strong sense of comic timing. J.R. Stuart also makes a loveable villain as the stern landlord, whose sense of morality makes him balk at the idea that unmarried couples might be living in sin in his building, but at the same time, he has no qualms about stealing beer from his tenants and lying about it. Matt Street is a little flat in his moments out of drag as Leslie, but once his female persona takes over he is completely hilarious and creates a sad sack hero you can root for.
The whole thing keeps moving at a brisk pace (any drag of the action would completely kill a piece like this) thanks to the expert direction of Derby Dinner stalwart Jim Hesselman. As is typical of DDP shows, the technical aspects (Ron Riall’s set, David Nelson’s sound design, Andrew Duff’s lighting, and Sharon Murray Harrah’s costumes) unerringly capture the look and feel of the 1970s.
If you can leave your brain at the door and not overthink it, this is a fun show to see with a group. And with dinner included, it’s a pretty good idea for a date night!
Featuring Dick Baker, Matt Street, Brittany Carricato Cox, Megan Johnson, David Myers, J.R. Stuart, Kiersten Vorheis, and Cary Wiger.
Love, Sex, and the I.R.S
January 9 – February 7, 2019
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.