Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Since he focuses more on the serious, creepy and depressed nature of the familiar TV show characters and the situations they encounter and drops virtually all of the humor of those situations, it's a bit of a shock, especially if you're expecting a laugh-filled R-rated sitcom on stage. Nearly Naked Theatre presents the Arizona premiere of the play with a game cast, fairly good direction, and fun period-perfect creative elements (including a replica of the TV show set.) They all do their best to make the most of what they've been given, but unfortunately, even a talented cast and director can't do much with a meandering script and a concept not taken to its fullest extreme.
3C opened at New York's Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in 2012 and immediately found itself in a legal battle with the original "Three's Company" rights holders who claimed it was copyright infringement. After a three year legal battle Adjmi won the case which allowed him to publish and license his work.
The plot is similar to the pilot episode of the TV show. After their roommate moves out, and owing several months of rent, Linda and Connie (the play's version of Janet and Chrissy) are in desperate need of a new roommate. When the new in town and looking for a place to stay Brad (the Jack Tripper character) stumbles into their living room from the kitchen, having just woken up from a party the girls threw the night before, they concoct a scheme to pass him off as gay in order to get the approval of their landlords, the bickering married couple Mr. and Mrs. Wicker (TV's the Ropers). Brad's hound dog friend Terry (TV's Larry) occasionally pops up to proclaim his manliness and brag about his latest female conquest.
While the setup and characters are almost identical to the series, Adjmi adds in nudity, profanity, and sexual situations along with a deep feeling of regret and depression. But his writing is lacking in character development and provides no real plot. He also adds an uncomfortable and creepy sexual predator in the part of Mr. Wicker, who has a squirm-inducing scene with Linda that will make you feel like you need to take a shower afterward. It's like the "Six Feet Under" version of "Three's Company."
Damon Dering's cast does a pretty good job of bringing these familiar characters to life on his (and Paul Wilson's) excellent knock-off of the original "Three's Company" living room setalbeit a dirty, dusty and broken down version of the apartment that has seen much better days. Tallie Hartley is very good as Linda. She has the measured line delivery and appropriately awkward looks to portray this depressed alcoholic who is obsessed about her weight and lets other characters continually use her in inappropriate ways. As Brad, Clayton Westbrook is pretty good. While he may lack the comical pratfall abilities of John Ritter and underplays the part to a degree, he exhibits a nice tone and demeanor and toward the end of the play, when he has a crying fit that turns to laughter, he perfectly shows the character's conflicted feelings without saying a word.
Alexia Lorch is the comic sidekick of the piece and her non-stop chatty and energetic take on the sex-crazed, slutty, minister's daughter Connie is a hoot. She throws off quips like, "I get lonely and needy. Oh well, hope I don't get raped," when describing a date she's about to go on with a man she just met, with aplomb. As Terry, Aaron Blanco exhibits the perfect, stereotypical, degrading air of the man who is always on the make for sex, drugs and booze, and Janis Ash Webb does well as the high-spirited, high-strung Mrs. Wicker. Blanco and Webb's heightened performances raise the energy of the scenes they are in, which is a nice balance to the depressed scenes that are prominent throughout. Though it is the smallest part, Pat Russel expertly inhabits the role of the manipulative, creepy landlord who may rape you or just fix your faucet.
Dering's direction is fine, considering this is a very weird play, so the tone shifts constantly, and not all of his cast is expert in playing everything that is required of them. The use of a strange "pause" and "play" concept, where projections are seen overhead to indicate those buttons on a TV remote control, adds an unnecessary element that slows the show down a bit. In addition to the great set, Dering's costume design is a laughable throwback to the cringe-inducing styles of the period.
On one hand I could say that Adjmi's script is half-baked, tries to be dark and dirty, but doesn't quite succeed on either count, and that by cutting out the humor it ends up being dull and depressing. But on the other hand, I can't stop picturing the fake, forced, happy looks and nervous, uncomfortable laughter that Hartley and Westbrook expertly display to hide their characters' deep depression and self-hatred, and I'm still thinking about the pain of those two characters a couple of days after seeing this production. If you go in thinking you're going to see a laugh-filled, racy version of "Three's Company" you will most likely be disappointed. So shake that expectation. Full of depressed characters, hidden sexual orientation, and some slightly disturbingly creepy lecherous acts, this is like a surreal alternative universe version of what really happened in that apartment without the laugh track and after the TV cameras stopped rolling.
3C runs through September 24th, 2016, with performances at Phoenix Theatre's Hardes Little Theatre at 100 E. McDowell in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased by calling (602) 254-2151 or at nearlynakedtheatre.org
Written by David Adjmi