In 'Love, Sex and the IRS,' BTC achieves amusing absurdity

"Love, Sex and the IRS" is a 1970s farce by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore that has more going for it than its intriguing title. Bowie Community Theatre's cast and crew transform what might seem dated into nostalgic sitcom gold, coaxing giggles from the audience at the improbable plot.

Ensconced in an apartment building that does not permit unmarried couples to rent units are a pair of male roommates — Jon and Leslie. Unknown to Leslie, they are listed as a married couple on their joint tax returns filed by Jon. Having saved money for four years, Jon learns that an IRS auditor will visit, forcing Leslie to pose as Jon's wife, complete with high heels and tight dresses.

When the comedy opens, we discover Leslie is having a fling with Kate, who is to marry Jon within two weeks. Nosy landlady Ms. Jansen frequently drops by the apartment, searching for unwed female roommates and suspecting Kate may be one.

Jon and Leslie's surprise guests arrive, including IRS agent Floyd Spinner, who wants to determine the validity of the couple's marital status and soon seems to have more questionable motives as well. Also arriving unexpectedly from Chicago to surprise Jon before his wedding, his mother, Vivian Trachtman, finds more cause for consternation than congratulations. She and Spinner deal with their mounting confusion by increasing their alcohol intake until both are incapable of figuring out much of anything.

The absurdity of the plot signals farce, a form that challenges actors to become exaggerated characters facing improbable situations. They are required to use slapstick in fast-paced action that becomes increasingly outrageous.

Sometimes described as disciplined madness, farce is difficult to bring off, and BCT director Terry Averill generally succeeds in shaping controlled chaos. He has a skilled cast creating stage bedlam, and he and they maintain a rapid pace.

From his producer's notes, we learn from BCT President John Nunemaker that "this cast has rehearsed three nights a week for two months to bring the laughter to the stage" — an effort that pays off.

Each actor contributes to the disciplined insanity. Usually cast in leading roles, Pat Reynolds as Jon Trachtman displays sharp comedic timing while creating warm rapport with Leslie, natural rapport with Kate and an amusing relationship with his difficult mother.

Shenna Ross delivers a multifaceted Kate who projects a reckless abandon with Leslie and an affectionate, reassuring quality with Jon. She becomes a quick-thinking adversary for the landlady, and exerts a calming, nurturing influence on Leslie and Vivian.

From his arrival as the dreaded IRS agent Spinner, the cool investigative civil servant is totally realized by Greg Garcia, who later transforms himself into an empathetic friend of awkward homemaker Leslie, a compassionate drinking buddy of Vivian and lovely Kate's relentless pursuer. Even when he is passed out in a drunken stupor, Garcia's formidable Spinner commands the scene.

Providing her share of high comedy is Joanne Bauer as Vivian, a nightmare of a future mother-in-law and Jon's obnoxious mother, who grows increasingly hysterical trying to determine the extent of Jon's vague commitment to Kate. Mixed with her near-constant complaining are her sharp one-liners superbly delivered with drunken bravado.

Marc Pardee makes a memorable BCT debut as roommate Leslie Arthur as he transitions through a maze of characters, starting with Jon's roommate, who opens the show lying on the sofa embracing Kate, insisting that she inform his best friend of their relationship. Next, Pardee's Leslie creates camaraderie with Jon before learning of his roommate's income tax deception and subsequently accepting his role as wife.

Leslie plays a devoted wife to Jon, taking cross-dressing to hysterical heights as he teeters on spike heels and attempts to cross his legs with unique style and charm. His pitch constantly evolving, Pardee's Leslie is an unforgettable wife and homemaker, funny in conversation and funnier still when rendered speechless by another "sinus" attack.

Allison Hawley adds to the fun and confusion as Leslie's former girlfriend and manages to bring her own allure in some revealing costumes.

Vivian brings in a strange character in Arnold Grunion, justice of the peace, played by Greg Anderson.

Averill does double duty in this production, also serving as set designer. He creates a set that evokes a 1970s/1980s-era bachelor pad, complete with "Flash Dance" and Farrah Fawcett posters, and later redecorates it into a married couple's apartment, complete with pillows and flowers.

The costumes were original and noteworthy.

Two remaining productions are scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday, July 27 and Saturday, July 28. Call the box office at 301-805-0219 for tickets.

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