Volume 16 • Issue 29 | December 16 - 22, 2003

Love transforms a tax evader

By Jerry Tallmer

Josh Kornbluth is back in town, and he’s traded in his red diaper for a Form 1040.

That is to say, the stimulating autobiomonologist of “Red Diaper Baby” (about his Communist parental roots) and “Haiku Tunnel” (about youthful durance vile at a law firm) and “Ben Franklin Unplugged” (well, he looks like Benjamin Franklin) is now among us with “Love & Taxes,” a saga that embraces both a girl named Sara and a 1990s tax bill that expanded exponentially like Tyrannosaurus Rex.

It’s also about how his love for straight-shooting Sara brought ingrained outrider Josh to learn to strangelove the tax man.

The performance, developed in collaboration with, and directed by, David Dower, is at the Bank Street Theatre through January 11.

Kornbluth is a large Cupid-like man of 43, with an expanse of forehead as front porch to a distant hairline, and it was over a very large hamburger that he talked the other day about the origins of the show.

“After David Dower and I had done ‘Ben Franklin Unplugged’ we were trying to decide what to do next. I had two ideas. The first was about the days when I played the oboe. I was going to call it ‘Oboe Minus One.’ But then I started practicing again, and I quickly realized how hard it was to play the oboe, and that that was why I had given it up.

“The other idea was my tax problem.”

That problem had raised its pretty head circa 1990, when Kornbluth, after a checkered earlier career (oboe, law firm, stand-up comedy, what have you) was doing his first monologues.

“At that point I hadn’t filed [with the IRS or California tax offices] for seven years. I hadn’t made very much, either, but I hadn’t filed.”

His boss at the law firm was horrified, and sent Josh to a high-powered tax attorney — a woman who in “Love & Taxes” has been given the name Mo Glass.

In 1992, after “Red Diaper Baby” had made something of a splash on the West Coast and here in New York — uptown at Second Stage, downtown at the Actor’s Playhouse — two studios took options on potential films of Kornbluth in action. For the first time in his life, Josh had a bit of real money. But by 1994, when the tax bill on those options came due, no movie of “Red Diaper Baby” or anything else had been made.

“Because the movies had never been made, I had no money. Then my brother Jacob and I made ‘Haiku Tunnel,’ and I thought I was due for a refund. When I went to see Mo, she informed me that instead of a refund, I owed a total of $27,000 to the government and to her. As time went along, I was up to $80,000 in federal and state taxes, interest, and penalties, and what I also owed to Mo the lawyer.”

Meantime, Josh and his brother Jake had, on their own, made a film of “Haiku Tunnel,” which went from the Sundance Film Festival to a release — “actually the week of September 11, 2001” — at the Angelika and elsewhere in New York and 100 cities across the U.S. It’s now on video, DVD, and cable.

“What’s terrifying [with the tax bill] is the number you can’t pay even though it’s growing and growing. The number at one price, then the number at another price.

“When David and I started working on this piece [‘Love & Taxes’] in the summer of 2002, at Sundance, the audience of actors and writers would start talking at the improvs. So many of them had tax problems so far beyond their ability to pay. It helped me to talk about it, because I was very embarrassed to talk about it.”

You don’t seem like an easily embarrassed person, Josh.

“I know, but it hurts a lot. And the reason I chose to do the tax piece over the oboe piece was because it was hitting so close to the bone.”

You seem so unpanicked.

“Maybe, but in the performance I’m panicked. It was actually a tremendously panicky situation.”

Are you clean now? All cleared up?

“I’m closing in. Still have some imperfections. And I now have an accountant who helps me.”

What would your anarchic Communist old man have said — the father, Paul Kornbluth, who’d sneak yourself and himself into the rear door of buses so as to beat the system?

“Well, he did believe that whenever you can you should get your digs in on The Man, put one over on the system. That was when I was a teenager. But later, after my parents divorced, he married again, had a family and all that. He was still concerned about where the tax money went, but by then he had entered the system. He died in 1983, in Michigan. I was in Boston. My mother, Bunny Selden Kornbluth Rosen, is still alive and just got married again last year.”

Sara, Josh’s love — Sara Sato — that’s a whole other story, beginning when she almost ran him down with her red Honda Civic in the parking lot behind a theater in Fort Mason, Colorado, because she could only turn right, not left.

She was a fan, a dedicated fan, also a very dedicated schoolteacher (still is), “and she wrote me all these wonderful letters,” and to make that long story short, they’ve been together 11 years and are the parents of 6-year-old Guthrie, “and after 11 years and a child, to say ‘girlfriend’ is really weird, so for the purposes of the public, we’re married.”

In any event, Sara Sato is in favor of paying taxes.

Is “Love & Taxes” someday also going to be a movie?

“You know, I’m thinking about it. Maybe for next year.”

Uncle Sam might like you to do it.

“Perhaps Uncle Sam would like me to do it. I’m not sure Uncle W. would want me to do it. “

Josh Kornbluth even has a pro-tax blog these days. You can tune in at www.i-r-us.org.


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