The Oklahoman

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Carpenter Square's production of 'Death Tax' pulls few if any punches

Tina (Aiesha Watley) cajoles her supervisor (Cam Taylor as Todd) into covering for her in a scene is from Carpenter Square Theatre's production of “Death Tax." [Photo provided]

A dark comedy about dealing (not very well) with death and taxes kept spectators guessing and sometimes in stitches (without surgery).

“Death Tax,” the play by Lucas Hnath, made up for its lack of moral uplift, with the richness of its often deplorable characters.

Beginning in December 2010, “Death Tax” was almost like a nightmare version of “A Christmas Carol” where behavior gets worse not better.

Briskly directed by Mark Fairchild, and pulling few if any punches, it was staged Friday at Carpenter Square Theatre, 800 W Main.

On oxygen in a hospital bed, Linda McDonald had the figurative first and last words as the feisty, tell-it-like-it-is, presumably dying Maxine. McDonald almost made us believe what she believes, that her daughter has paid the nurse to kill her before year’s end, when estate tax laws change.

Aiesha Watley was both a formidable friend and adversary as the nurse, Tina, who takes Maxine up on her dubious offer to outbid her daughter for her life.

Bringing earthy yet queenly stage presence to the part, Watley just about convinced us she was doing it all to reclaim her son from her ex-husband in Haiti.

Watley had some of her best, juiciest scenes with Cam Taylor, as her supervisor and lover, overcoming his objections and enlisting him in the plot.

Mild-mannered and cardigan-wearing, but secretly wanting to be a “leather jacket guy,” Taylor was understated yet effective, especially when he confronts Tina.

Katy Hughes got across the daughter’s mixed emotions, seeking to reconcile with Maxine, while Taylor was good in a second cameo as her grown, undecided son.

Benefiting from a clean, almost all black-and-white hospital-nursing home set by Ben Hall, the hard-hitting, at times hard to watch play is highly recommended.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; April 12-13 and April 19-20; plus 7:30 p.m. April 11 and 18; and 2 p.m. April 14. Call 232-6500, or go to for information.

— John Brandenburg, for The Oklahoman