Remembering Three’s Company in 3C

I once had a job where my co-workers and I would describe and compare our work setting to an episode of Three’s Company. The office was always filled with confusion. Someone lost a contract. Someone forgot to send an email. No one could explain the acronym that described our new and “groundbreaking” program. The supervisors were clueless. Our filing system was dated and dangerous! If disorganization had a face and a body, this job was its name. We were trapped inside of a “work-week’s-worth” of pure confusion. Sometimes we would sing the theme song to Three’s Company to get rid of our annoyance. The other employees never knew why we were singing the tune; needless to say, they were confused. It was hilarious, a perfect scene for laughter!  Eventually we became too frustrated to withstand it any longer and all three of us resigned.

I am remembering here.

I am remembering this moment because I just read David Adjmi’s 3C. I have to pay respect to Adjmi simply for taking me back. He took me back to a job site that always felt chaotic and scattered. He took me back to the originator of our mockery, the television sitcom itself — Three’s Company. I pictured Jack. I pictured Janet. I pictured Cindy. Stanley. Helen. Chrissy. Terri. Mr. Furley! The apartment. The phone. The tripping. The jokes. The confusion!

And even though Adjmi’s play forced me to recall and remember the sitcom (and a personal memory) — I never forgot that I was reading Adjmi. I certainly did not feel as if Adjmi had stolen or infringed on the sitcom’s copyright (Adjmi was sued by DLT Entertainment for copyright infringement). I felt there was something new and strange and inventive in 3C. I don’t know if I’d call it good writing because it did feel scattered and all over the place. But maybe Adjimi’s style holds meaning? We could conclude that Adjimi is trying to say something about America’s often aimless and anxious pop culture vibe. While Adjmi’s content would not be my first choice to explore in my own writing — the subject is relevant and definitely a crowd pleaser (to some). Or maybe I am attracted to Adjmi’s content? Well, I mean, he is exploring one of my favorite topics — identity. I guess I’m really talking about Adjmi’s style. His style is not my style.

The work is absolutely shocking, daring, resistant to “rules”, hysterical and dark. Adjmi drowns us with symbolism: Connie’s coat, Mrs. Wicker’s medication, Brad’s pastry bag, music and alcohol. We sink (at least I did) in a whirlwind of emotions — anger, discomfort, amusement, shock, and disgust. Elisabeth Vincentelli  calls 3C “one of the best productions of the season.” I wanted to clock out of the play around page 40.

Here is an excerpt from Vicentelli’s review of 3C. Adjmi explains:

“[The TV series] really represented for me what the popular culture was, and I would see myself in that mirror and see the discrepancies, feeling very confused by it. We talked about it with the cast in terms of Pop Art, Andy Warhol and the soup cans: He was not critiquing vegetable soup, there was a broader cultural matrix there. So I wanted to use this iconography as a springboard to talk about other things. I get disappointed when people look at the play as a satire of ‘Three’s Company.’ Some of the reviews stick on that one level and it’s not about that at all. For me there’s a lot of rage and anger and violence and hostility in the world of the play, and these poor souls are orbiting in it. They’re kind of suspended in this limbo because they don’t know how to match the social roles the culture demands with who they are inside. There’s such a disparity that it starts to suffocate them, and it makes them manic.”

I was right. I could have stopped reading 3C halfway through. Clearly Adjmi wasn’t concerned with creating a satire of the television show — that would have been too obvious and Adjmi seems too clever. I immediately recognized Adjmi’s concern with self-identity and the pressures associated with fitting in and acceptance.

Let’s quickly go back to the copyright issue with 3C. Here’s the problem with copyright: Now that we know Adjmi was actually thinking about Andy Warhol’s soup cans for this play, should Adjmi be sued by Warhol’s representatives? Remember David Shields’ Reality Hunger?  Remember Picasso’s quote: “Art is theft.”  Case dismissed.




2 thoughts on “Remembering Three’s Company in 3C

  1. I also did not feel that Adjmi had infringed upon any copyright with this play. These are highly exaggerated versions of all the characters on “Three’s Company,” so they’re not really meant to represent them specifically. However, being a huge fan of the show, I did find myself gasping at many of the scenes because I would think “Chrissy would never do that!” or “Oh my God, Janet and Mr. Roper?” Despite my intimate knowledge of the show, I was able to enjoy this play as a separate and complete work on its own. I agree that Adjmi is using “Three’s Company” as a springboard for a larger critique or dissection of modern pop culture or society in general. His style is also not my style, since I write nonfiction, but I do write about pop culture and use my own pop culture obsessions to explore why I like what I like and how that relates to what makes something iconic in this way. That said, I actually really enjoyed the play, and would love to see it on a stage near me.


  2. I really appreciate reading the extended quote from Adjmi about why it was he chose the engage with Three’s Company as source material. He certainly has written enough notes into the script distancing his work from the sitcom, and recommending strategies for staging that would honor the distance between it and 3C. It’s nice having him comment on what was positive in his strategy, what was creative in his critique. Bronte points up in her blog that Adjmi is seizing on the innuendo in Three’s Company and magnifying it, offering it up for our consideration. — The homophobia/transphobia in Adjmi’s play was really unbelievable to me until I watched Three’s Company, where jokes about the same are made regularly. And it is this tendency in popular culture that Adjmi was putting under a microscope. Navigating “social roles” and “cultural obligations,” the characterizations in Adjmi’s play offer a deeply dark vision of the consequences of failing to live authentically: one is repressed until one is depressed, until one becomes so depressed that they suicide themselves. That had not happened by the end of 3C. But there are enough death threats and suicide jokes to make that outcome seem possible in the very near future of next week’s episode. It’s scary out there, now as in the 1970s. Thanks for sharing.


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