Set in the Santa Monica of 1978, David Adjmi’s 3C takes an old sitcom, THREE’S COMPANY, strips out the saccharin and pumps it full of Disco Era desperation and creepiness.
The story takes place in an apartment shared by two girls where the detritus of a party lingers as a seedy counterbalance to the possibilities of youth, underscoring the pathos just under the surface. Instead of Suzanne Somers’ ditsy blonde, Chrissy, we have Anna Chlumsky as Connie, a girl/woman who is a tragically clueless sex object. Linda (Hannah Cabell), is the level-headed Joyce Dewitt equivalent – when she’s not incapacitated by her demons.
The landlords, the vile Mr. Wicker (Bill Buell) and his unhinged wife (Kate Buddeke), take turns punishing their in-arrears tenants psychologically and physically. Rounding out the requisite triumvirate of roommates is Brad (Jake Silbermann), a Vietnam vet turned chef. Brad is cajoled into faking being gay in order to put a respectable front on the two-girls-and-one-guy rental arrangement. Sound familiar? The joke’s on them, though, as each of the roommates wrestle with their sexual identities.
3C is a complicated play, set in a complicated time – nine years after the Stonewall riots, the same year as the murder of Harvey Milk, a year before the first national gay rights march on Washington. Few headline names were coming out, and the sexual revolution had not yet crashed headlong into the AIDS epidemic.
Also stirring the emotional stew inside 3C is Terry (Eddie Cahill), a swaggering, jumpsuit-attired friend of the three roommates who looks as if he has come cross-country from the Bay Ridge disco of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.
“I think Terry is a sexist pig, no doubt,” Cahill said in a recent interview. “I try not to make him a monster. He’s just a product of the times.”
Cahill may be a familiar face to fans of CSI: NY, who will recognize him as Detective Don Flack, and as the man behind the mask in MIRACLE, the 1980 Olympic gold-medal-winning goalie Jim Craig.
But this time his character is a narcissistic disco dandy and cocaine aficionado who moves in Travolta-esque glides and gyrations. The characters fall into disco dancing so often it’s like another character. It’s no accident: the choreographer is Deney Terrio, one of the pioneers of the disco dance craze who taught John Travolta his moves for SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.
Cahill sees his character as flawed but well-meaning. “There is something very dark going on,” he said, “but I initially found what was sweet about him, for all his swing and swagger and talking about chicks all the time.”
There are some loopy similarities to THREE’S COMPANY, but in 3C, the consequences are no laughing matter. “I never watched THREE’S COMPANY, but I pulled from it that it may have seemed light and sweet,” Cahill said, but “there was also a ton of misogyny going on.”
Addressing the sexual tensions in the play Cahill said the play was true to its time. “Somebody who was a young adult in the ’70s will be familiar with most of the sexism addressed in the play.” It was a time when young people were motivated to have a good time at all times, he said.
Cahill was lucky when the script was sent his way, he said. “How it came about was pretty cool,” he said. The offer came conveniently after CSI wrapped shooting and headed into hiatus.
He is happy to be back on stage in front of a live audience, despite the darkness around the edges of 3C. “I love flexing theater muscles,” Cahill said. “Television has merits as well, but there’s no substitute for live theater. Just remember: it’s not a matinee kind of show.”
3C is presented by piece by piece productions, Rising Phoenix Repertory and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. 3C is playing at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place. www.3ctheplay.com.