You can come and knock on their door, but they're not ready for you: In "3C," David Adjmi's debauched rendition of "Three's Company," everyone is damaged and the only good times are achieved at manic speed.
His creations, takeoffs on the original characters developed by John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt in the popular '70s sitcom, aren't exactly sympathetic - in fact, they're such trainwrecks maybe the only place they can live is with each other - but their antics conceal real pain, even when they don't recognize it.
The night after their old roommate's going away party, Linda (Hannah Cabell), the "Janet," and Connie (Anna Chlumsky), the "Chrissy," are splashing more liquor on their hangovers while trying to figure out what to do about the empty room before they get any later on the rent.
But this is no idle discussion among roommates. Insecure Linda is depressed, verging on claustrophobic, alternately clinging to Connie for approval and not so subtly jabbing at her for her bubbly stupidity and none too particular methods in finding dates.
For her part, Connie's habits of picking up strange guys on the boardwalk are cursory enough that before planning to head out with a new suitor to a Peter Frampton concert she chirps, "Hope I don't get raped!" She'll try any drug Terry (Eddie Cahill), their horndog friend clad in ludicrously matching outfits who dances into every room, brings over to her, while seemingly allergic to keeping her clothes on. As much as Linda threatens to leave and Connie cajoles her into temporary pacification, neither of their sad courses will be altered.
At least they have each other, while Brad (Jake Silbermann), their Jack Tripper, starts low and drops further into a spiral of self-loathing. Discovered by Connie and Linda when he falls naked out of their kitchen - a nod to the original series' bathtub sleeper - Brad is convinced to move in with them from behind a deep, sheepish blush that should probably be medicated.
Hurried into a dress when landlord Mr. Wicker (Bill Buell) arrives - because, obviously, his clothes are missing - Brad is forced to play gay and mercilessly derided in a series of uncomfortable sequences, with his roommates present as silent witnesses, with all this abuse the price he pays for having fallen in love with his old roommate Terry. And when he can finally reveal his sexuality to them? Laughs, extended laughs like the kind that carpeted "Three's Company" in synthetic shag.
"3C" director Jackson Gay never met an awkward silence he didn't like, but they call attention to a halo of nostalgia for '70s kitsch remnants like "Three's Company" that conveniently erases how such scraps were mediocre at best and deeply cutting to members of its audience later.
The notion of Jack Tripper's wink-wink nudge-nudge sexuality, accessible in truth to everyone but him (supposedly), could make America laugh while his roommates were free to parade theirs, while privately destroying a million Brads in a way that no earnest Kurt Hummel could repair. Getting taken for a joke is the best result Brad can hope for; no wonder every time he takes a comic pratfall he comes up looking actually hurt.
Silbermann, as Brad, endures "3C"; the other actors are mainly there to enjoy, particularly Chlumsky, recently of HBO's "Veep." She has a very good time with Connie's wide eyes, comedically misdirected comments (including two mistaken-from-behind-the-door sequences) and the not entirely untrue accusation by Linda that she shakes her breasts at everyone she encounters. But there's a horror under her pursuit of fun that keeps her chasing too, and it's everpresent in Chlumsky's eyes.
"3C" runs through July 14 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place. For tickets and info, visit www.rattlestick.org.