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[whitespace] 'Love & Taxes'
Talk Therapy: Josh Kornbluth works through his emotional and financial issues in his new show.

The Tax Man Cometh

Josh Kornbluth wrestles with debt and his Commie dad in newest one-man show, 'Love & Taxes'

By Richard von Busack

AS APRIL 15 looms, monologist Josh Kornbluth offers a little perspective on one of the least-loved days of the year. His scintillating piece Love & Taxes, now at the Theater on San Pedro Square, tells us how he stopped worrying and learned to love taxation.

Kornbluth connects the problems of a hellish tax bill with his unwillingness to give up his childhood and embrace adult responsibility. This monologue--Kornbluth's fifth long piece--concerns his years of success. He's able to leave temp jobs and his Mission District concrete basement apartment in favor of making a movie and finding a girlfriend. How Kornbluth met his wife to be is a funny story in itself; she flagged him down from her car ("Hey! Do you accept groupies?"). There's always hope for a true fan.

It's hard to imagine a more radical artistic stance than coming out in favor of the IRS. However, Kornbluth not only makes his position clear but also displays his great talent to amuse. He's bald and plump and, even in a Japanese-woodblock print shirt and Levis, he bears a passing resemblance to Ben Franklin, whom he portrayed in a recent monologue.

I'd seen Kornbluth in the film Haiku Tunnel, which hadn't quite worked; mostly, it was the problem of a stage artist turned to the screen, being held in too strong a close-up. The intimidating Helen Shumacher stole so much she turned up in the display ads for the film.

The problem of filming a monologist was solved in different ways by directors Steven Soderbergh and Jonathan Demme when they made films of pieces by the late Spalding Gray. In Gray's Anatomy, Soderbergh used a screen behind the actor, with multimedia images, changes of lighting and man-on-the-street interviews. Demme, in Swimming to Cambodia, set up different cameras in order to rhythmically cut to conversations between Gray and the various interlocutors he happened to be playing.

Kornbluth is deeply indebted to Gray and is the first to admit it. Even though the declamation goes back to ancient Greece, and the theatrical lecture was a financial support for writers such as Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, Gray's stripping down of his props to a map, a desk and a glass of water was so radical that its implications are still being felt.

But on this small stage, Kornbluth's use of negative space (as well as a screen with computer graphics by San Francisco's Flying Moose) makes for a much less claustrophobic experience than Haiku Tunnel. Plus, the material is richer and more personal. In Haiku Tunnel, Kornbluth wrestled with that only-in-Northern California question "Should I sell out?" He tended to stylize the story of his life, to gild it with a little artificial poetry.

Kornbluth still does this a bit, turning slightly fulsome (as a doting father will) about schoolchildren. But there's a bass note here: When he confesses, "All I ever do is fuck up," or when he reveals the desperation this debt created in him, he goes past light comedy into serious drama. The crisis strikes the actor as he's about to settle down with his wife. His $80,000 debt seems ready to ruin his happiness. And he learns that it's his own relation to his father--a Communist who never cared to buy into the system--that may have landed him in trouble. At the same time, he doesn't bash his parents.. Kornbluth remembers the grace of his dad, the carefree way in which he would hurdle over the turnstiles at the New York subways.

Before the show, Kornbluth commented on the odd title, which pairs "Taxes" with "Love" instead of with "Death." In a sense, taxes show our love of each other as citizens, our respect and gratitude. Love and taxes aren't superficially connected--it's obviously a juxtaposition that's unusual--but they're connected in a way that's emotional and clear. There's logic in Love & Taxes, but it's Kornbluth's gregariousness and warmth that make his challenging point of view easier to appreciate.

Love & Taxes, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Saturday-Sunday at 3pm through April 11 at Theatre on San Pedro Square, 29 N. San Pedro St., San Jose. Tickets are $25-$30 (408.283.0200).

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From the March 31-April 6, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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