- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

The path of love rarely runs smooth, but neither does it usually involve Schedule C or forms K-1 or 1099.

Yet in the nuttily neurotic world of Josh Kornbluth, “withholding” does not necessarily apply to affection, and “dependent” does not refer to someone stiflingly close.

In Mr. Kornbluth’s universe, love and taxes are not only intertwined, they are the way to learn “how to love a woman as deeply and profoundly as I loved my father.” His path to fiscal and emotional responsibility is charted in the massively funny “Love & Taxes,” which is enjoying a brief run at Arena Stage’s Old Vat Room.

Only Mr. Kornbluth, who recounted his communist childhood in the delightful piece “Red Diaper Baby,” would believe the answer to a puzzled heart could be found in U.S. tax law.

He finds profundity and a late-breaking patriotism in his encounters with the IRS, which make him realize taxes are not to be avoided, but to be ardently embraced as part of civic duty.

Josh is in a herculean predicament: He didn’t pay taxes for seven years. His journey to manhood (his nice girlfriend won’t marry him until he settles his burgeoning bill with the feds) puts him in contact with all sorts of vivid characters, including Bob, a “virile practitioner of tax law cuts” and Mo, a “holistic” tax lawyer who first asks for childhood memories instead of receipts. He also meets the grass-roots “Tax Goddesses,” two women who employ New Age methodology before advising Josh to file for bankruptcy, and even Sheldon S. Cohen, a former IRS commissioner who tells him that by not paying taxes, he is not avoiding “The Man,” he is “The Man.”

This realization goes counter to everything he held dear in his commie childhood, when his father would have rather been put to death than give out his Social Security number and the objective was to beat the system, not live within it. Instead of feeling hemmed in and defeated, Mr. Kornbluth experiences a peculiar freedom. By accepting his share of the tax burden, he can let go of his overidealized relationship with his dead father and allow new love into his heart.

That the IRS could bring about this transformation is a miracle in itself, but Mr. Kornbluth is such a skilled storyteller that such reaches seem warm and tangible. He has a way with zingers, and his Groucho Marx eyebrows, Larry Fine-like Stooge hairdo and staccato delivery make him the perfect comic figure.

There are achingly funny moments in “Love & Taxes” and also aching ones. His father was his protector, his tutor and his hero. By paying his tax bill, Mr. Kornbluth becomes what his father never was — a provider.

“Love & Taxes” deftly shows us that, like the truth, the IRS can set you free. It’ll make you want to kiss your W2s. Well, almost.

***1/2

WHAT: “Love and Taxes” by Josh Kornbluth

WHERE: Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW, Washington

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays, 4

and 9 p.m. Saturdays. Through March 13.

TICKETS: $20 to $30

PHONE: 202/488-3300

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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