Deconstructing ‘Three’s Company’ for the 21st Century

Written by Doug Strassler on . Posted in Arts & Film, Theater.


The three roommates in David Adjmi’s 3C, currently running at the West Village’s Rattlestick Theatre—Connie (Anna Chlumsky), the blonde bimbo; Linda (Hanna Cabell), the put-upon, responsible one; and Brad (Jake Silberman), the aimless Vietnam Vet—play the age-old party game “Faces” several times throughout the show. Yet a more appropriate title for this experimentally subversive noncomedic homage to Three’s Company would be “Masks”; everyone in this play has a secret, and not the kind that would win them a prize from Garry Moore.
No one in the audience could be faulted for assuming that 3C was nothing more than a comedy, thanks to set designer John McDermott’s lovably detail-oriented recreation of the Company set. But this isn’t a mere theatrical version of a kitschy sitcom; leave that to the Fringe Festival. Adjmi uses the show to hold up a mirror to a time gone by and show just how much—and how little—attitudes have changed.
So, for instance, when Connie and Linda take in new roommate Brad, the central conceit—that they must pretend he is gay in order for their living arrangement to appear kosher in the eyes of their landlord—isn’t even mentioned onstage. But before long it’s clear that Brad, in addition to suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, is gay, and harbors a painful crush on best friend Terry (Eddie Cahill, moving better in a leisure suit that anyone has a right to).
Meanwhile, both he and Linda face gross mistreatment from their landlord, Mr. Wicker (an unsettlingly good Bill Buell), even as his wife (Kate Buddeke) grapples with her own problems with mental illness and the shame associated with her prescription tranquilizers. Connie, too, suggests a history of victimization underneath her sunny outlook (at times, Chlumsky’s delivery could be a bit broader to rightfully land Adjmi’s dialogue.)
Adjmi’s style is defiantly revisionist, but also decidedly behind the curve. This two-note premise loses steam by the 45-minute mark, and its callbacks to Company’s sitcom style—Silbermann’s excellently executed pratfalls, misunderstood conversations and double entendres—confuse the tone.
3C also gives too much currency to a show that stopped being relevant long before TBS stopped airing its reruns at five minutes past the hour. If he wanted to play with modern attitudes toward coupling and sexual identity, why not take another look at Ellen? Or Friends? Or Will & Grace? There’s already plenty of distance to chart between now and then.
Director Jackson Gay, however, plows through this material, which is most evocative when dialogue-free, as seen in Linda’s character-revealing solo dance scenes in the apartment (choreographed by Deney Terrio, the man responsible for teaching John Travolta his dance moves in Saturday Night Fever). Cabell is actually a revelation through-and-through, summoning all sorts of survivalist pain for the misunderstood Linda. Silbermann, too, delivers a knockout turn as he navigates Brad’s constant confusion. Other times, it feels a bit too belabored. Adjmi’s attempt to flip the switch on his subject matter only goes so far. Eventually, audience members get the urge to turn the dial.

3C
Through July 14, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Pl., 212-279-4200, rattlestick.org.

Anna Chlumsky, Hanna Cabell, Kate Buddeke and Jake Silbermann in "3C". Photo by Joan Marcus

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