Three producing organizations have conspired—I’m afraid that’s precisely the word—to perpetrate the staging, by Jackson Gay, of David Adjmi’s 3C (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater). piece by piece productions and Rising Phoenix Repertory, the two companies joining Rattlestick in this dramaturgic Fukushima, colluded last year with Soho Rep to present Adjmi’s wispy, pointlessly site-specific Elective Affinities. On the evidence of these two plays, Adjmi must be a mesmerist of remarkable capacity in his business dealings; he certainly shows no particular ability as a playwright, except a knack for tiptoeing awkwardly where others have already marched boldly. Nothing in these two scripts explains how he could have won the Whiting Writers Award, the Kesselring Prize, the Steinberg Playwright Award, and the Bush Artist Fellowship. In fact, his having done so makes the taste of judges for those awards look extremely untrustworthy. If he isn’t a master hypnotist, I would certainly like to meet his agent. But I doubt that I’ll ever want to sit through another of his plays.
3C is ostensibly set in a beach-accessible apartment in Santa Monica, circa 1978, where two young women struggling to make the rent take on a male third roommate. The titular apartment number, as you’ve already guessed, alludes to the vintage sitcom Three’s Company, and Adjmi’s writing tries, relentlessly, to allude to what he presumably thinks is sitcom writing, so much so that the script smells obnoxiously like an audition sample when it doesn’t just plain smell.
But sitcom fans need not fear: Any hope Adjmi might have had of getting a TV writing contract out of 3C have been thoroughly dashed by Gay’s direction, which alternates waves of pointless jabbering, screeching, mugging, and pointless running around with long passages of equally pointless glum silence. The press release suggests that these latter were inspired by Chekov; I won’t print what I would suggest to the press release in return. Since Gay, in other contexts, has displayed evidence of genuine skill and intelligence as a director—last year she staged the Mint’s charming and ingeniously designed production of Rachel Crothers’s A Little Journey—I have to assume either that she has no clue to the genre Adjmi is aiming for, or that he and his dubious clutch of producers have browbeaten her into this mode of brain-dead excess.
Certainly none of her actors, who include several known quantities, has ever behaved this misguidedly onstage before. Kate Buddeke, as the landlord’s wife (apparently channeling Kristine Nielsen in Durang’s Betty’s Summer Vacation), at least has the excuse of playing a character who’s supposed to be mentally unstable. Anna Chlumsky, not too unbearably, provides an efficient replica of the synthetic fabric known as Kristin Chenoweth. And set designer John McDermott deserves, I guess, a minute pinch of praise for squeezing so many slammable doors on the Rattlestick’s cramped stage. Beyond this, there’s nothing good to be said about the performance, and nothing at all good to be said about the play. Any convincing connection to believability, coherence, human feeling, fun, or the realities of 1978 has been systematically omitted. Absurdly, Adjmi apparently intends 3C to be a gay play, a category for which it qualifies only by the definition of that term supplied long ago in Robert Patrick’s The Haunted Host: “It sleeps with other plays of the same sex.”