Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
18

A Letter from the Theater Community Regarding David Adjmi's "3-C"

On June 6th, David Adjmi's play 3-C opened Off-Broadway, and the same day, he received a cease-and-desist letter. Without legal counsel, he felt compelled to agree that the run of the play could not be extended—and that it would never be performed again. In this open letter, a group of playwrights, theater professionals and performers explain why this is so wrong.

Playwright David Adjmi, whose play 3-C just closed a run at Rattlestick Theatre, has received a threatening "Protest Letter" from the law firm of Kenyon & Kenyon, which represents DLT Entertainment, the owners of the long defunct TV sitcom "Three's Company." The letter accuses him of copyright infringement, and demands that he cease further performances of the play, provide them with an accounting of all revenues from the play to date, and furnish them with his written assurance that he will comply with these demands. The letter claims that 3-C damages their client's property, which is being developed for the stage. In comparing the works, the lawyers note that "Connie is sexy and jiggles just like Chrissy," Mr. Wicker makes gay jokes, as did Mr. Roper, and notes further that the play features slapstick comedy, which apparently is the sole property of "Three's Company." It goes on listing the similarities between the works. Yes, David's play satirically invokes the sitcom in question as a template upon which to de-construct the mores and tropes of that time. It is clearly and patently and unremittingly parody, to the extent that it depends on Three's Company's 1970s attitudes towards sexual relations, etc., in order to slyly examine the underlying brutality and bigotry attendant to American popular culture of that era. (And since then).The critical response to the play has generally acknowledged 3-C's exploration of the essential aloneness of the characters, and the toxic suffering they endure. Mr Adjmi's intentions are not to replicate Three's Company, but clearly and patently to mutate it into something dark and frightening, savage even.

Parody has been recognized as protected speech by the Supreme Court again and again. (Think of the highly publicized case of Hustler Magazine Inc. v Jerry Falwell, in which the minister sued the magazine publisher over a mock Campari ad in which he was portrayed as having a drunken sexual encounter with his mother in an outhouse. I could go on and on, listing such examples, some more outré, some less.) To quote the First Amendment Center:

A parody is an attack on folly, but it takes the form of a contemptuous imitation of an existing artistic production—usually a serious work of literature, music, artwork or film—for satirical or humorous purposes. Satire and parody have served for generations as a means of criticizing public figures, exposing political injustice, communicating social ideologies, and pursuing such artistic ends as literary criticism. Satirists usually find themselves subjected in turn to criticism, contempt and, sometimes, lawsuits. The First Amendment protects parody as a form of free speech and expression.

I am not a lawyer, but David may need one, and I am currently investigating the willingness of a respected First Amendment firm to take this case on pro-bono. That an off-Broadway playwright should be bullied by a Wall Street law firm over a long-gone TV show, is, in and of itself, worthy of parody, but in fact, this should be taken seriously enough to merit raising our voices in support of Adjmi and his play, which Kenyon & Kenyon is insisting be placed in a drawer and never published or performed again. Whether one appreciates the work or not is immaterial; the principle at stake here is a basic one. Specious and spurious legal bullying of artists should be vigorously opposed, and that opposition must begin first and foremost with all of us in the New York Theatre community.

Sincerely,

Jon Robin Baitz
Andre Bishop (Artistic director, Lincoln Center Theatre)
Tony Kushner
Martha Plimpton
Joe Mantello
Stephen Sondheim
Terrence McNally
Kenneth Lonergan
John Guare
Chris Shinn
Pippin Parker
John Patrick Shanley
Jose Rivera
Craig Lucas
Peter Hedges
Jim Nicola (Artistic Director, NY Theatre Workshop)
Steven Karam
John Steppling
Alisa Solomon
Terry Kinney (co-founder, Steppenwolf Theatre Company)
Stephen Adley Guirgis
Kelly Overbey
Kevin Sessums
Daniel Goldfarb
Lou Jacob
Bruce Norris
Casey Childs
Ann Washburn
Mark Snyder
Isaac Butler
Julianne Hoffenberg
Nick Gandiello
Josh Beerman
Dorian Palumbo
Peter Frechette
Michele Volansky
Daniel Reitz
Nick Jones
Adam Feldman
Jenny Mudge
Chris Henry Coffey
Haskell King
James Joseph O'Neil
Laura Cole
Ellen Novack

(If you would like to become a signatory or lend assistance, inquire here.)

18 Comments / Post A Comment

La Cieca (#1,110)

Some clever journalist should ask Suzanne Somers what she thinks of this situation.

City_Dater (#2,500)

I'm really looking forward to the movie based on the play about the lawsuit about the play parodying the old TV show.

keisertroll (#1,117)

@City_Dater ON ICE!!!

@City_Dater The Wooster Group is working on it. The first act is a lawyer in a space-suit watching Adjmi's play as it is projected on a quilt of finely stitched batwings stretched between cigar store Indians painted like lumberjacks. Later Anne Magnuson plays Laurie Anderson playing John Roberts and Antonin Scalia plays himself playing with himself. And, of course, obviously, ON ICE!!!

Will I get sued for commenting against the TV show to the tune of the Three's Company theme song? :)

There’s a knock on your door
(There’s a knock on your door)
Hey your play may be screwed
(Hey your play may be screwed)

They won’t let you exist
Cease and desist
Three’s Company sued

Could have run two months more
(Could have run two months more)
If they didn’t intrude
(If they didn’t intrude)

But let’s cut to the chase
Though there’s no case
Three’s Company sued

We need a moment of clarity
This is a parody, dude

But their attitude’s rude
Three’s Company sued

@Frederick Landau@facebook

That song is protected under copyright. You'll be hearing from our lawyers.

ejcsanfran (#489)

@Frederick Landau@facebook: "Dance and come on our floor…"

@Frederick Landau@facebook You are a genius.

A Full list of the artists who have signed as of now is as follows. Thanks.
Jon Robin Baitz
Tony Kushner
Andre Bishop
Joe Mantello
Stephen Sondheim
Chris Shinn
Bruce Norris
John Guare
John Patrick Shanley
Jose Rivera
Amy Herzog
Lisa Kron
Lynn Nottage
Craig Lucas
Peter Hedges
Adam Rapp
Jim Nicola (Artistic Director NY Theatre Workshop)
Robert Falls (Artistic Director, The Goodman Theatre, Chicago)
Tim Sanford (Artistic Director, Playwrights Horizons)
David Van Asselt (Artistic Director, Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre)
Terrence McNally
Kenneth Lonergan
Stephen Adley Guirgis
Martha Plimpton
Steven Karam
John Steppling
Alisa Solomon
Moises Kaufman
Annie Baker
Terry Kinney (co-founder Steppenwolf Theatre Company)
Pippin Parker
Kelly Overbey
Kevin Sessums
Daniel Goldfarb
Ellen McLaughlin
Daniel Talbott
David Cote (Theatre editor, Time-Out NY)
Sarah Benson (Artistic Director, SoHo Rep)
Lou Jacob
Casey Childs
Ann Washburn
Howard Rodman
Griffin Dunne
Daniel Talbott
Jason Grote
Connie Cogdon
Mark Snyder
Isaac Butler
Kia Corthron
Julianne Hoffenberg
Nick Gandiello
Josh Beerman
Dorian Palumbo
Peter Frechette
Michele Volansky
Daniel Reitz
Nick Jones
Adam Feldman
Jenny Mudge
Chris Henry Coffey
Haskell King
James Joseph O'Neil
Laura Cole
Jack Davidson
Ellen Novack
Tom Kirdahy
Daniel Talbott
Shoni Currier (Director of Performing Arts, City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs)
Ken Russ Schmoll
Kathleen Tolan
Deborah Stein
Todd London (Artistic Director, New Dramatists)
David Pertraca
Melissa Jane Gibson
Jason Grote
Robert Stanton
David Bar Katz
Philip Himburg
Bathsheba Doran
Winter Miller
Illana Brownstein
Marisela Trevino Orta
Frank Episale
Saxon Trainor
Michael Criscuolo
Jacob Climer
Lisa D’Amour
Rob Neill (managing director of the New York Neo-Futurists)
Melanie Joseph (Artistic Producer, The Foundry Theatre)

JennyBeans (#7,034)

@Robbie Baitz@facebook David Cromer's facebook status is in support of Adjmi. I'm sure he will sign.

deepomega (#1,720)

How many have signed now?

mikemariano (#11,150)

From the Times: "I was getting all sorts of conflicting advice from my agents at CAA and my producers, some of whom doubted that the play would meet the legal standards of parody."

That's amazingly terrible: these are the people that needed to support Adjmi the most and instead they left him alone and confused in lawsuit land.

Baitz and his signees are right that this deserves to be fought.

It's freedom of speech and expression that's being challenge. Parody has been around as long as theatre has. No laws are being broken. How do sign this petition….I technologically challenged.

I have sent this link to an entertainment lawyer friend of mine and has in turn sent it out to one lawyer in New York and one in L.A. and I understand that they have offered the playwright free legal advice. I was on an email chain and wasn't sure if the playwright has accepted or not. The lawyers are of the opinion that he is indeed being bullied and they are ready to the Good Work. Anyone who knows David, let's encourage him to follow through and respond to the helping hands being extended to him (if he hasn't done so already). Too many of us are invested in this now!

I'm not a stage actor but I do feel really upset over something as stupid as this. Three's Company original run has been off the air for years and just re-running possibly underneath a new ownership and I don't think David sat down in front of his computer thinking to himself "HMMM, Maybe I should copy the 70's show to a teed, turn it into a play and see IF I can get sued over something so stupid" What you've seen on tv isn't what you've seen here on stage!! I attended a performance live and I can tell you that half the stuff the characters were doing on stage is NOTHING compared to what the characters on the show did.

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