Theater Review: Timber Lake Playhouse offers Love, Sex and the I.R.S.

July 21, 2010

Trevor Leaderbrand (from left) as Jon, Jeff Fonoglio as Arnold Grunion and Daniel Switzer as Leslie in TLP's comedy Love, Sex and the I.R.S. Photo provided

By Bill Beard

For their fourth show of the summer in the deep woods of Mount Carroll, Timber Lake Playhouse is offering the madcap, screwball comedy, Love,  Sex and the I.R.S. Set in New York City in 1974, the story focuses on two unemployed male musicians, Jon and Leslie. Unbeknownst to Leslie, Jon has been doing their income tax reports the last four years, not individually, but listing them instead as a married couple, saving lots of money for them both. But when the I.R.S. announces they are coming to audit, Leslie is maneuvered into posing as the “little homemaker/wife”; and that’s just the beginning of the hilarity.

Trevor Leaderbrand, of the University of Florida, plays the culprit, Jon, and handles the manipulation of the chaos very well, with an on-the-edge control; whereas Daniel W. Switzer, a senior at Rockford College, allows the frantic, cross-dressed Leslie to “pull out all the stops” during much of the two hours of pandemonium.

Contributing to the belam are several other confused and confusing characters, including the absolutely gorgeous Meg Maley, of Baldwin-Wallace College, as Jon’s fiancé, Kate; the always vivacious Andrea Leach as Leslie’s girl friend, Connie; and Brittany E. Martin as Jon’s Mother, Vivian Trachtman.

Kudos to two other actors for fine solid performances: Philip Black as I.R.S. Agent Floyd Spinner, proving his versatility again after a fine Billy Flynn in Chicago and Ali Hakim in Oklahoma!; and Tyler Jordon Smith as the landlord, Mr. Jansen. Smith had only a couple of days to prepare, stepping in as a last-minute replacement, and definitely proved his breadth of talent to this reviewer, with a superb character, balanced perfectly, right on target, and very funny!

Jeffrey Fenoglio’s cameo role as Arnold Grunion, the “last-minute minister,” completes the cast list.

Love, Sex and the I.R.S. is a farcical comedy. Farce is difficult. It relies on highly improbable situations, exaggerated characters and slapstick physicalization, as opposed to the wit, irony and derisive humor of satire. Farce is fast and frantic, and must appear to be constantly on the verge of madness. However, all that madness must actually be entirely under control; it must be accomplished with complete discipline. The actor must know exactly what he’s doing and precisely how far to go at all times. But it is the play’s director who must ensure this, who must shape the chaos.

In general, and certainly by the end of this performance, Love, Sex and the I.R.S. was a wonderfully funny evening. It proved to be a real audience-pleasing show; and, indeed, the audience showed their approval. This is two-plus hours of excellent comedy, well worth the price, the time and the drive.

But Guest Director Derek Bertelsen did not seem to have kept this farce very well in control. From the moment the lights went up, the pace of the action seemed to catapult forward. Voices were loud, almost shouting, lines seemed rushed, as though someone had said: “Let’s get this show off to a fast start…move it!” But starting at that extreme level left nowhere to go, except higher, and faster, and louder. One might note this appears to be Director Bertelsen’s first experience with farce; his credits in the program notes list primarily serious dramas and traditional musicals.

Thankfully, the actors gradually seemed to find ways of pulling back, leveling out, at least enough to find an acceptable shape for the overall performance.

Some attention should be given to two roles. Ms. Martin’s characterization of Mrs. Trachtman needs modification, in vocal volume and tone, and in the rigid, overdone, almost caricature interpretation of middle age. And Mr. Switzer needs to establish firmer control beneath the frantic slapstick of the “Leslie drag.” It is just entirely too wild much of the time. Of course, the ridiculous red, clownish makeup and the hideous costumes are much to blame. Again, “discipline beneath the pandemonium.”

Amanda Sweger’s setting was well used; the spiral staircase was great; and the handling of Leslie’s “escape” from the upstairs balcony, as seen through the first-floor, rear-wall window, was outstanding.

Basically, in the end, this is a successful performance of well-contrived farce, and is one more pleasant evening of good fun for all ages—worth your while.

It runs through this Saturday night, July 24. For information, call (815) 244-2035 or go online at http://www.timberlakeresort.com/timberlakeplayhouse.htm.

From the July 21-27, 2010 issue

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