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A stage parody of the 1970s sitcom Three’s Company has been stuck in legal limbo ever since the original copyright owners of the ABC classic filed a lawsuit, but now the playright is striking back, and he has the support of the theater community.
The original sitcom starred the late John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, and Suzanne Somers, and centered around Jack Tripper, a straight guy who pretended to be gay so he could live with two women (which is about as close to a real live gay person that 1970s network television allowed). Like all things gazed at through hindsight, we realized that the premise of a straight man pretending to be gay so that he could stay at an apartment with two women is silly, and the fact that he kept this charade up for seven whole years, and between two different landlords, and seemingly endless clones of Suzanne Somers (how many cousins could Chrissy really have?) is beyond preposterous.
As such, Three’s Company was in need of a good dissection, and playwright David Adjimi stepped up to the call. Adjmi intended to unwind the cultural knots and kinks at the heart of the show’s premise. His play, titled 3C, intended to a cast a dark shadow over ABC’s original perma-sunny Santa Monica. This time, the Jack character (“Brad” in the play) would still pretend to be an openly gay man in order to live in the The Wickers’ apartment (the play’s version of the Ropers, who were very conservative concerning co-ed roommates and yet surprisingly tolerant of homosexuality, huh?). This time around, though, the lead isn’t straight, but a closeted gay man… pretending to be a straight man pretending to be a gay man. Hm.
Adjmi’s play 3C ran for two months off-Broadway, and sought to open in even wider distribution, but the play was hit with a cease and desist letter from the copyright holders of Three’s Company, who considered the parody to be too similar to the original version. Adjmi shelved the play after threat of legal action, but has since thrown caution to the wind and is attempting to publish the play in an anthology of his own work.
While the courts might find Adjimi at fault for copyright infringement in terms of the law, he is clearly within his rights culturally. Ever since the first stories was ever told, those first stories were mocked by the next batch of stories. Satire is a valuable piece of human expression, and it shouldn’t be limited due to copyright claims since parody is already protected under fair use. Furthermore, several other properties, ones much more valuable than Three’s Company, have received stage parodies that didn’t cheapen the original brand, including The Simpsons (the play Mr. Burns) and Silence of the Lambs (Silence! The Musical). Beyond that, modern parodies often open the subject of satire to a new generation of fans. Three’s Company doesn’t resonate with many people under a certain age, but a new play examining the cultural mores of late ’70s with regards to homosexuality might reintroduce the show into our current discussion of the topic.