MANKATO — Initially, Ben Stasny had other summer plans.
Before auditions in March, he planned on returning to his native Roseville and hunting for a summer job. He certainly didn’t plan on spending his summer in Mankato, playing roles in three of the Highland Summer Theatre’s four productions.
“I was surprised,” Stasny said. “I felt very honored to be cast that much.”
Stasny is only a freshman. And while Minnesota State University allows first-year students to audition for stage roles (unlike some collegiate theatres), they are still competing against more seasoned undergraduate and graduate students, a sizable portion of whom land professional gigs after college.
Still, the versatile young actor showed up for Highland auditions in March with lofty ambitions and tempered hopes. So, he was understandably elated when Paul Hustoles, chair of MSU’s Department of Theatre and Dance, called to tell him to cancel his summer plans because he’d landed three roles in upcoming Highland productions -- including the shifty Arnold Grunion in the production of “Love, Sex and the IRS” that debuts Tuesday.
“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” said Stasny, who will also play the roles of Brian in the cutting-edge musical “Avenue Q” and Uncle Max Detweiler in “Sound of Music.” “I was very excited when I got the call from (Hustoles). I thought maybe one or two roles, but not three.”
Stasny’s trio of summer performances begins with the comical farce written in 1979 by Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore.
Van Zandt has said he and Milmore wrote the script on a Smith-Corona typewriter between takes on the first Star Trek movie. Describing the genesis of the play, Van Zandt said “Love, Sex and the IRS” began as “nothing more than a showcase for me to do a lot of ‘I Love Lucy’ gags.”
And he succeeded.
The play centers around Leslie and Jon, a pair of out-of-work (male) musicians who try and dupe the Internal Revenue Service by filing taxes as spouses. When a straight-laced tax agent shows up to start asking questions, pratfalls, sight gags, cross-dressing and witticisms ensue.
Along the way, a cast of mixed-up characters complicate matters, including Jon’s fiancee (who is having an affair with Leslie), Leslie’s girlfriend (who is devoted but bubble-headed) and Jon’s country-clubbing conservative mother Vivian. Arnold Grunion is a “fixer,” a shady type that Vivian meets on a subway and agrees to arrange a hasty marriage.
Paul Finocchiaro, who is directing the play, said that “Love, Sex and the IRS” defies its title. Despite its provocative name, it contains no swear words or nude scenes. Though, he added, there are plenty of laughs and gimmicks.
“It’s a farce,” Finocchiaro said, “fast-paced, witty script, tons of physical comedy.”
As for Stasny, he said he’s looking forward to an intense summer.
Since school is out for student actors in the Highland Summer Theatre, rehearsals are generally fewer, but longer in duration. It’s not uncommon for Highland rehearsals to stretch into eight or nine hours long.
Naturally, the compressed preparation time puts a responsibility on actors to familiarize themselves with the script and be ready to go when rehearsals open. Stasny said he enjoys such rigor.
“I can’t help but take (acting) seriously,” he said. “There really is not a doubt in my mind that this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.”