A live version of 'Three's Company' in San Francisco? Yes. Done mostly in drag? Oh yeah. Hilarious? Apparently so.
The theme song begs you to, “Come and knock on our door,” but that’s literally what you do to see the current San Francisco production of “Three’s Company Live.”
That's because the action takes place in a theatre space in the front room of Jack Tripper’s (aka Mike Finn’s) Victorian in Hayes Valley.
“Three’s Company” is still regarded as one of the most-titillating sitcoms to ever become a mainstream hit and is also notorious for launching the careers of thigh-mistress Suzanne Somers and pratfalling John Ritter, whose character Jack pretended to be gay in order to live with two female roomies.
Seeing the ’70s stereotypes of homosexual behavior—limp wrists in the air, feminine voice affectation—played out by a cast that’s three-fifths in drag makes those dated ideas even more laughable. And you don’t have to be a big fan of the show to get a kick out of this live take on two early episodes. The guy next to me in the audience grew up in England and had never seen an episode yet was guffawing throughout.
You know you’re in for a treat when Jane Wiedlin—the little firecracker from legendary rock band The GoGo’s—does a perfect Joyce DeWitt as Janet the moment she hits the stage. But when the Ropers (Matthew Martin as Helen and Sara Moore as Stanley) steal every scene they’re in, you realize you’re in sitcom heaven. And that’s not even mentioning Finn’s lecherously lithe take on Tripper or D’Arcy Drollinger’s flawless Chrissy Snow (snort snort!).
Not to give away all the fun surprises, but I urge you to snap up tickets to the show’s final performances Friday and Saturday. The troupe ingeniously uses the tiny stage for a hysterical opening credits sequence and even for clever, flashback, commercial breaks.
Director Cindy Goldfield (Remember, Chrissy’s first replacement was named Cindy!) gave me the low-down on how this Nick at Nite staple got beamed to SF.
Corey: How did this come to be?
Cindy: It’s pretty much the brainchild of D’Arcy and Mike. We all met on a production called ‘Scalpel!’ at Brava! It’s a rock musical about plastic surgery and mind control. Mike has always been involved with the ‘Golden Girls Live’ group. Over the years, people have asked, ‘What shows work well live?’ We looked at the shows we grew up with and what would translate to the stage and what has the comedy meat to it to stand up to a live performance.
Corey: Was D’Arcy already doing a dead-on Suzanne Somers as Chrissy, or was that something that developed with this project?
Cindy: He is brilliant. He and I worked on a production last spring in New York at La MaMa called ‘Project: Lohan.’ It was about Lindsay Lohan from the time she went to Hollywood to the time she got put in jail the first time, all in found text from court transcriptions and 911 calls and tabloid reporting. What happens is D’Arcy becomes completely obsessed with whoever he is playing and turned himself into Lindsay Lohan. And now has turned himself into Chrissy Snow. He spends hours and hours watching videos and everything about them. It’s always got his flair underneath: Chrissy’s weird snorting laughter, those deadpan takes to the audience and just completely not getting her own jokes. For the most part, I encourage him. ‘Go as far as you want, and I’ll tell you if it’s too much.’ The other people who are brilliant at that are Sara Moore and Matthew Martin (as the Ropers). Matthew has a gift for landing a deadpan joke. He always has. He’s brilliant. He watches these characters and goes, ‘What do I distill so we ultimately know exactly who that is?’
Corey: Did you actually have to dig up Audra Lindley to get those outfits for Mrs. Roper?
Cindy: (laughs) No, Matthew had those. Matthew also does a one-man show called ‘All Singing, All Dancing, All Dead.’ The big, orange caftan is from that. I think it’s an Ann Margaret caftan. Horrendous orange.
Corey: I had heard from Jane that this was taking place in a home, but were some audience members surprised that it was staged in someone’s living room?
Cindy: I think probably 60% of the audience had been there for other events. They’ve done a ‘Golden Girls’ production there. It’s sort of an underground performance space. It was used as a location for the ‘Baby Jane?’ parody film. It’s a fun location and an amazing place to be able to work. I don’t know anybody else that has their own ballroom.
Corey: There was definitely a lot of attention to detail, which helped get into the moment. Was there a costume piece or prop that was challenging to find?
Cindy: D’Arcy is very particular about his shoes, so he had to order him some shoes. I always have to go, ‘No more wigs!’ In any Drollinger production, there’s always a plethora of wigs.
Corey: Who discovered that Jane Wiedlin did such a perfect Joyce DeWitt as Janet?
Cindy: Mike and Jane have become really good friends. When Mike and D’Arcy decided to do this and casting about, it just seemed like a natural fit. I guess she’s been told for years and years how much she resembles Joyce DeWitt; so you might as well capitalize on that. It was interesting to work with performers from a variety of genres.
Sara Moore comes from a clown/straight theatre background. She is known as a physical comedian. Matthew grew up as a theatre trouper and does a ton of drag and solo cabaret stuff. Mike grew up with a circus background of unicycling and juggling and has worked in the drag community for years as a promoter. D’Arcy comes from a musical theatre background—several Broadway shows.
Jane comes from a rock-and-roll background. I come from straight theatre. It was interesting bringing together all these disparate yet complimentary backgrounds. It took a few rehearsals to come to a common vocabulary. We all have the same goal, and it’s been a lot of fun.
The show has been selling out, so to get tickets to “Three’s Company Live,” visit Brown Paper Tickets.
Corey Andrew has been interviewing comedians and writing about comedy for the last decade and a half. In 2011, he published the book, “Laugh Lines: Conversations with Comedians.” Corey was a writer and performer with Midwest sketch troupe The NonProphets before moving to the Bay Area with his family a few years ago. If you have ideas for future columns about comedy, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/coreywrites.