Phoenix hits funny bone with ‘Love, Sex and the IRS’

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Phoenix Stage Company actors, from left, Kimberly Sanders, Ron Nassef and Moses Beckett rehearse a scene from the company’s production of ‘Love, Sex and the IRS,’ Monday night.

For its latest production, Naugatuck’s Phoenix Stage Company will present a comedy of errors. No, not the Shakespeare play. “Love, Sex and the IRS” is a bit more modern, but just as full of comedic snafus, slapstick, and cases of mistaken identity.

In the play, a pair of male roommates decide to save money by listing themselves as married on their tax returns. When an IRS agent becomes suspicious that “Leslie” may not be the woman he claims to be, the agent decides to investigate. To avoid going to jail, Leslie is forced to dress in drag, a subterfuge which spins out of control.

Meanwhile, the other roommate, Jon, is trying to keep everything together while everyone else is loosing their minds.

Tangled love triangles and the unannounced visit of Jon’s puritan mother keep everyone on their toes.

“When you’re telling the story, it sounds confusing,” admitted Ed Bassett, the show’s director.

When actually watching the show, the audience has the inside information that the characters are missing, Bassett said.

“I can almost hear the audience going ‘uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh’ time and time again because they know what’s going to happen,” Bassett said.

The director, who is also one of three partners in the theatre, first performed in the show in 1983 in Japan.

He loved it then, so when the triad started talking about their 2011 season, Bassett suggested the show.

The Phoenix is limited by its small stage and budget, so they have to pick shows with simple sets and small casts.

“This was the perfect size for us. It works for our theater,” Bassett said.

Plus, since Bassett was already familiar with the show, they didn’t have to go searching for another director.

Bassett said the show fits well into the theatre’s season between “I Hate Hamlet” and “The Glass Menagerie.”

“It is really deep comedy,” Bassett said.

For the Phoenix’s production, they decided to set the stage in 1976, with all the trappings of the decade, including polyester leisure suits.

“Anybody who grow up in the 70s, they have to come see it just for the set and the costumes,” Bassett said.

Most of the eight member cast is new to the company’s stage, with actors coming from the surrounding area.

However, two of the cast members are veterans of the Phoenix stage.

The actress who plays the mother, Val Vitalo, is in her third show in a row at the Phoenix, with past performances in “I Hate Hamlet” and “The Hallelujah Girls.”

Vitalo said she keeps coming back because she loves comedies and supporting a young theatre.

“It’s a very comfortable space,” she said. “I love working with the people here.”

Moses Beckett, who plays Leslie in “Love Sex and the IRS,” recently appeared as Andrew in “I Hate Hamlet.”

Moses said pretending to be a woman is a lot of work. “I didn’t realize so much work went into it,” he said.

Moses, who has pierced ears, said he’s struggling with heavy woman’s earrings.

Although he acted in high school, Moses said he’s just starting to get back into it after taking a hiatus to go to law school.

“Acting’s definitely more fun,” he said. “It’s so wonderful here, like a big old family.”

The cast has had a fast rehearsal period, but they’re on track for opening night Friday.

“No one ever thinks their ready for opening night. … It just happens and theatre magic happens,” Bassett said.

Usually, the Thursday before a show opens, the place looks like a tornado hit it, but by Friday afternoon, the mess just disappears, Bassett said.

The cast is having a great time with the show, he said.

“The longer we rehearse, the more comfortable they get,” Bassett said. He said the slaps are getting harder and the spray bottle in someone’s face goes on longer with each rehearsal.

“Every day that they rehearse they just get better and better and better,” he said.

The show runs March 11, 12, 18, 19, 25 and 26 at 8:00 p.m. and March 13, 20 and 27, at 2:00 p.m.

Tickets are $22.00 for adults and $18.00 for students and seniors. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at (203) 632-8546 or online at tickets@phoenixstagecompany.org.