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‘Three’s Company’ Parody Deemed Fit to Stage

MANHATTAN (CN) - Any producer or publisher interested in playwright David Adjmi's "darker, exceedingly vulgar" take on the iconic 1970s sitcom "Three's Company" should feel free to come and knock on his door, a federal judge ruled.

More than a week into the summer 2012 run of Adjmi's "3C," lawyers for the sitcom's owners at DLT Entertainment sent producer Rattlestick Playwrights Theater a cease-and-desist letter calling the play an infringement.

Rattlestick, an off-Broadway mainstay known for nurturing playwrights, stuck to its guns and completed the five-week run as scheduled. But Adjmi said that DLT's threats have been a roadblock for any future revival or publication.

Adjmi sued his muse's company in Manhattan last year for a judgment declaring his play fair use.

Approving that request Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska detailed the "nightmarish" spin the playwright gave on Jack, Janet and Chrissie's antics.

"The play is a highly transformative parody of the television series that, although it appropriates a substantial amount of 'Three's Company,' is a drastic departure from the original that poses little risk to the market for the original," Preska wrote.

Adjmi told Courthouse News that he felt "vindicated by the ruling."

"As an artist it is tremendously heartening to know that the court understands the distinction between transformative work and wholesale appropriation, and that my rights are protected," he said in an email.

Taking a foray into theater criticism, Preska noted that Adjmi's "deconstruction" of the sitcom uses "the familiar 'Three's Company' construct as a vehicle to criticize and comment on the original's light-hearted, sometimes superficial, treatment of certain topics and phenomena."

"Three's Company" depicted its character Jack as a straight man who had to convince his landlord Mr. Roper that he was homosexual to live with two women, Janet and Christie.

Adjmi's sends up this plotline by reimagining the character as "Brad," a gay man repeatedly subjected to homophobic slurs. Janet's self-consciousness gets amplified into her doppelganger "Linda's" self-loathing. Christie's flirtatious persona takes on a far more explicit turn in the character of "Connie."

After quoting Connie's line about someone walking in on her having sex, Preska wrote: "'3C' is not light fare."

The 56-page opinion quotes variations of the word "faggot" from the play at least a dozen times, plus allusions to rape, drugs, psychosis and other themes.

"To the extent that homophobia, sexual aggression, drug use, self-consciousness, and self-esteem issues were present in 'Three's Company' - which the court does not necessarily accept as fact - those themes were largely made light of and ultimately played for laughs," the opinion states. "Moreover, many of those constructs, such as actual homosexuality and illicit drug use, were not actually present in 'Three's Company.' '3C' treats them as real and, in the court's view, criticizes and comments upon 'Three's Company' by re-imagining a familiar setting in a darker, exceedingly vulgar manner."

Adjmi's lawyer Bruce Johnson, of Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle, said he was "delighted" by the court's confirmation that "playwrights have a fundamental First Amendment right to poke fun, even at a chirpy 1970s sitcom."

DLT's lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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