I never watched Three's Company during its eight seasons on ABC (1977-1984), so I googled some old episodes to prep for this review of David Adjmi's dark parody, 3C, running now at A Red Orchid Theatre. And just . . . Lord.
If you're not familiar, Three's Company was the one where female roommates Janet and Chrissy agree to share their Santa Monica apartment with Jack, the male stranger they find passed out in their bathroom one morning. High jinks ensue, of course—starting with the story the trio tell their landlord, who doesn't condone cohabitation by unmarried heterosexuals of opposite genders. Jack is gay, they lie, and the landlord is strangely appeased, possibly because he understands that Jack's tenancy opens the way to loads of faggot jokes.
And the faggot jokes do fly, as does smutty humor of all kinds. Three's Company was considered racy for its time and context—even progressive insofar as the landlord's bigotry is treated as a gag in itself. But the years have not been kind, as Adjmi obviously noticed.
Part of Adjmi's strategy is to take actual gambits from the series and push them even further into cartoonishness. There's a bit in the original, for instance, where Jack is in the bathroom with Chrissy, helping her put up a shower curtain while the landlord eavesdrops, misconstruing all he hears. (Jack: "OK, Chrissy, I'll get in the tub with you, then we can get it on.") Adjmi approximates that moment here, substituting language that takes the misunderstanding to new heights of kink. Similarly, ditzy-wise Chrissy is tweaked into ditzy-sociopathic Connie, levelheaded Janet becomes repressed hysteric Linda, and the comically aggrieved landlord, Stanley Roper, is transmuted into a Pinterian thug named Mr. Wicker.
Adjmi's larger intention, though, is to expose what Marx and Monty Python might call the violence inherent in a homophobic system. By tearing out the sitcom's cultural safety features—including its assurance that Jack is a conventional horndog at heart—3C means to bare its nasty underpinnings. We're all telling the truth now.
And that truth has power up to a point. Adjmi pours a lot of wit into 3C, but even at a mere 90 minutes, both its satire of TV conventions and its critique of sexual hypocrisy become repetitive. His points made, Adjmi's left with nowhere new to take us.
What gets us through is a stunningly good bunch of actors directed by Shade Murray. Lawrence Grimm's Wicker is as amiably sadistic as they come, Sigrid Sutter's Connie suggests how the girl in The Bad Seed might've turned out if she'd spent her childhood attending princess pageants, while, as Linda, Christina Gorman finds a level of crazy the creators of Three's Company couldn't have imagined. Jennifer Engstrom has perfected a kind of female drag queen persona that she puts to good use as Mr. Wicker's missus, Steve Haggard offers a truly creepy depiction of a disco Don Knotts, and Nick Mikula seethes as the Jack substitute, Brad. v