Off-Broadway Theater Review: 3C (Rattlestick)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on June 29, 2012

in Theater-New York


The concept of David Adjmi’s flawed but entertaining new play 3C is an intriguing one: to take Three’s Company, an iconic, milquetoast ABC sitcom (which starred John Ritter and ran from 1977 to 1984), and subvert it, removing the innocuous, bourgeois-TV-show veil, and turning its characters and themes on their heads.

Dmitry Zvonkov's New york Review of 3C at Rattlestick

The collection of characters (though with different names) are virtually identical to those in the sitcom, as are both Oana Botez’ exciting, 1970’s-esque costumes and John McDermott’s set. The plot is also similar, at least initially: On the morning after the going-away party for their third roommate, two cash-strapped young women, Linda and Connie – Janet and Chrissy’s doppelgangers, played by a wonderfully high-strung Hannah Cabell and a ditsy yet morbid Anna Chlumsky – discover Brad (Jake Silbermann), a party crasher from the night before, in their apartment and offer him to move in with them, as long as he pretends to be gay in front of Mr. and Mrs. Wicker, their conservative landlords (Kate Buddeke is appropriately schizophrenic as the frustrated Mrs. Wicker).

Dmitry Zvonkov's New York Review of 3C at Rattlestick

In Mr. Adjmi’s absurdist reinvention, the characters behave quite differently from the way they do in the cheerful sitcom: When old Mr. Wicker (a delightfully vile Bill Buell) is alone with the ambivalent Linda,  he thrusts his hand down the front of her shorts without warning and masturbates her; when Linda overhears their macho neighbor Terry (Eddie Cahill, who steals every scene that he’s in) teaching Connie how to snort cocaine, Linda mistakenly believes that what she’s in fact hearing is Terry trying to screw Connie up her nose; and when we first see Brad, as he steps out into the living room where Linda and Connie are talking, he is completely naked.

Dmitry Zvonkov's New york Review of 3C at Rattlestick

Director Jackson Gay does a very fine job with material that is often slippery and which in the wrong hands would likely fall flat. And there are many good bits of dialogue and some fun set pieces. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t expand much on its initial idea. A potentially compelling storyline between Mr. Wicker and Linda is dropped as soon as it’s introduced. In general there’s very little plot, with the characters not doing much in the way of overcoming obstacles; they mostly just are. Doses of this are enjoyable but ultimately unsatisfying, as questions arise such as “Where is this going?” and “What’s the point?” In the end “the point” is not only predictable and weak, it’s also about 15 years out of date.

photos by Joan Marcus

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place
produced with piece by piece productions and Rising Phoenix Repertory
ends on July 14, 2012
for tickets, visit Rattlestick


Logan July 5, 2012 at 3:02 pm

I think “where is this going” IS the point, as is the plotlessness of the play. These deliberate choices help to dramatize the existential horror (or “misunderstandings”), isolation, and cultural distress that Adjimi is exploring in this play. It seems clear to me that Adjmi is less interested in THREE’S COMPANY than he is the state of the nation.

Dmitry Zvonkov July 6, 2012 at 9:42 am

I hesitate to argue with you too much as I believe this play has value. But a play isn’t “performance art” and it isn’t a dissertation, it’s a dramatic work. And a dramatic work, first and foremost, needs to be dramatic; we don’t merely need to understand what the playwright is talking about, we need to feel it, to be moved by it in some way. You’re right, Mr. Adjmi is indeed trying to show “existential horror (or “misunderstandings”), isolation, and cultural distress.” But these observations and ideas are not new. Mr. Adjmi chose them as his themes presumably because he felt he had a new way he wanted to explore these themes dramatically. My feeling is he could have done a better job.

You make a good point, I suspect Mr. Adjmi is less interested in “Three’s Company” per se than he is in using it as a canvas on which to paint his ideas (about “the state of the nation,” “existential horror…” etc.). But then what is his interest in homosexuality? What role does it play? What is he using it for? Is homosexuality merely a tool to illustrate those same ideas? Would pedophilia, for example, serve the same purpose? Or necrophilia? What exactly does being gay mean in 3C? In my opinion it’s one of a number of things in the play that are not worked out.

Maia July 12, 2012 at 8:12 pm

I think the issue of homosexuality is a lens through which Mr. Adjmi magnifies the fact that in reality, none of these characters are what society wants them to be. And it is that society that so violently and relentlessly pushes down on the characters to conform. Brad is grappling with this idea and coming to terms with who he is despite the pressure from the world he lives in. At the time, homosexuals were starting to be more open about who they are and this gives all the characters an excellent opportunity to partake in this celebration. “We’re all faggots!” they shout. The liberating confession and the catharsis that comes with it takes on a manic form that turns into absurd very quickly. This last part is in keeping with the general mood of the play. The expectations of society are absurd as are the characters it creates.

Dmitry Zvonkov July 14, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Homosexuality is used as a tool to illustrate the characters’ lack of self-knowledge and is not explored as a thing in itself. It’s a symbol that stands for something else and to that extent it could just as well have been, as I’d said, pedophilia or necrophilia, or an eating disorder or any number of other things. This is a problem. The lack of specificity is especially unsatisfying as all four of the main characters turn out to be gay. That’s a significant coincidence but except for the rather simplistic ass slapping scene it isn’t really explored, it isn’t dramatized. This is also a shortcoming. Having intentions, ideas, making statements in a dramatic work is not enough (especially when those statements have been made many many times before). The playwright needs to explore these things dramatically to make them real and meaningful, to make them count.

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