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Review: 3C (A Red Orchid Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: 3C (A Red Orchid Theatre)

A satire as funny as it is troubling

Review: 3C (A Red Orchid Theatre)

Review by Catey Sullivan

Anyone who had a functioning television set during the late 1970s will recognize the musical ditty that opens 3C . The words have changed, but David Adjmi's jingly, earwormy tune will take you right back to the glory days of jiggle TV and pre-ThighMaster Suzanne Somers.

Review: 3C (A Red Orchid Theatre)
The opening song is a riff on "Three's Company" the highly-rated 1977-84 sitcom that epitomizes boob tube mindlessness. The tale of three roommates - bubble-headed, big-breasted blond Chrissy (Somers), her smarter brunette friend Janet and their platonic supposedly-but-not-really-gay pal Jack - has morphed into a something of a camp classic over the years.

The setup for the show is as dated as wearing tube socks with micro-minis. Chrissy and Janet need help paying the rent, so they take in Jack. Since rooming with a straight guy would be so scandalous they'd get evicted, Janet and Chrissy tell the landlord that Jack is gay. Homophobic hijinks ensue. Watch the show today, and you'll cringe at how it dehumanizes gay men, turning them into nothing but vehicles for crude, aggressively insulting punchlines.

With , Adjmi deconstructs the inherent hatefulness of "Three's Company." In doing so, he creates a show where buffoonish comedy butts up against vicious homophobia. It's a discomfiting and compelling mix.

has the same premise as "Three's Company" - bleached-blonde dimwit Connie (Sigrid Sutter) and her roomie Linda (Christina Gorman) take in Brad (Nick Mikula) to help pay the rent. The girls tell landlord Mr. Wicker (Lawrence Grimm) and his wife (Jennifer Engstrom) that Brad is gay. The twist: Unbeknownst to all, Brad really is gay.

What ensues under Shade Murray's intelligent, perceptive direction is a collision of lowest-common-denominator jokiness wound around Chekhovian bleakness. has plenty of sit-commy moments. But no matter how much bosom bouncing is going on, they are all couched in a deep sense that these characters are genuinely disturbed and despairing The comedy is accompanied by the nagging, needling worry that even in a laugh-track world, depths of unease lurk just below the yuks.

Review: 3C (A Red Orchid Theatre)
Review: 3C (A Red Orchid Theatre)
Review: 3C (A Red Orchid Theatre)
Review: 3C (A Red Orchid Theatre)

That dichotomy shows up constantly in Adjmi's dialogue. When Brad mentions that he's just back from Vietnam, Connie responds with a wide-eyed "I've never been, is it nice?" Linda snaps back: "He was in a war." Connie, with a childish whine: "You're always so negative." Then there's a recurring bit about Love Canal - Connie thinks it sounds like the perfect venue for a romantic vacation.

Brad's fake (but real) gayness is the subject of groaning puns and the world's stupidest double entendres - until Mr. Wicker becomes an ugly and violent menace. Then there's Linda's constant worry that she's fat. It's funny until it's not, and you realize that she's signing up for a future stooped over toilets and warped by bulimia.

Everyone in has serious troubles, and the cast is adept at bringing them out while keeping to the sitcom aesthetic. Sutter's hollow-eyed Connie knows she's missing something, even if the very idea of determining what that something is completely overwhelms her. This is perfectly summed up when Connie is asked whether she ever feels empty. In her puzzled response - "You mean, like hungry?" - Sutter shows a character who is vaguely aware that something is very wrong and who is unable to even begin to address what that might be.

Review: 3C (A Red Orchid Theatre)

As Linda, Gorman creates a woman who's emotional problems are evident even during the most bumptious shtick. Mikula's Brad is a man torn apart by secrets, trapped in an outward show of effortless machismo and a deep-seated fear of being unmasked. Engstrom is operatically over-the-top as the profoundly unstable Mrs. Wicker while Grimm makes Mr. Wicker seem like he's always just a hair's breadth away from doing something truly evil. As Brad's best friend Terry, Steve Haggard is the sort of wild and crazy guy you can imagine both at swinger's parties and modeling polyester jumpsuits in the J.C. Penney catalogue, circa 1978.

The designers have done a meticulous job creating the world of the late 1970s, from the vintage Cosmo magazine Connie leafs through to meticulously curated chest hair on Brad and Terry. There's even a copy of "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" in Lydia Hanchett's prop design. Myron Elliott's detailed costumes are period perfect right down to the orange piping on Brad's patchwork denim ensemble and the slinky qiana of Terry's going-out shirt. Choreographer Jon Martinez nails the moves of the era, creating several dance breaks you might have seen (albeit excited with far more grace) in Pepper's Hideout back in the day.

was the subject of prolonged legal wrangling a few years back, when the powers-that-be of "Three's Company" claimed Adjmi was guilty of copyright infringement. Fortunately, the play prevailed. Whether it plays best to those who survived the 1970s is debatable. What's not is that Murray has delivered a satire as funny as it is troubling.

continues through June 4th at A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $30-$35, and are available by phone (312-943-8722) or online through (check for half-price tickets at ). More information at (Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission)

Review: 3C (A Red Orchid Theatre)

Photos by Michael Brosilow

behind the scenes

Shade Murray (director), Spenser Davis (asst. director), Sarah Fabian (scenic design), Rachel Levy (lighting design), Myron Elliott (costume design), Tia Lui (asst. costume design), Brando Triantafillou (sound design), Lydia Hanchett (props design), Jon Martinez (choreography), Maggie McCarthy (technical director), Christa van Baale (stage manager), Kathleen Dickinson (asst. stage manager), Shannon Golden (production manager), Mierka Girten (casting director), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Tags: 17-0448, A Red Orchid Theatre, Brando Triantafillou, Catey Sullivan, Chicago Theater, Christa van Baale, Christina Gorman, David Adjmi, Jennifer Engstrom, Jon Martinez, Kathleen Dickinson, Lawrence Grimm, Lydia Hanchett, Maggie McCarthy, Michael Brosilow, Mierka Girten, Myron Elliott, Nick Mikula, post, Rachel Levy, Sarah Fabian, Shade Murray, Shannon Golden, Sigrid Sutter, Spenser Davis, Steve Haggard, Tia Lui

Category: 2017 Reviews, A Red Orchid, Catey Sullivan

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