3C Playwright David Adjmi Comes Under Fire From "Three's Company" Lawyers
By Adam Hetrick
Playwright David Adjmi's dark comedy 3C, which takes a page from the 1970s sitcom "Three's Company," has come under fire from lawyers representing DLT Entertainment, the company that owns the popular television series.
According to a report in the New York Times, Adjmi was contacted by Kenyon & Kenyon, the lawyers representing DLT Entertainment, who sent a cease-and-desist letter citing copyright infringement, listing 17 points of similarity between the play and the sitcom. 3C uses a scenario similar to "Three's Company," but explores darker implications of American culture in that time. The now-closed production ran June 6-July 14 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.
A stage adaptation of "Three's Company" is in the works and DLT felt Adjmi's play was damaging to the property. The series also has a life in syndicated reruns.
The correspondence from the lawyers also stated that the production could not be extended past its July 14 closing date, that no future productions could be performed and the script could not be published. Box office figures were also requested in addition to a written agreement from Adjmi that he would comply with their demands.
Adjmi told the Times that he estimated he would make roughly $2,500 in royalties from the five-week Off-Broadway run and could not afford to seek legal counsel. 3C concluded its run as scheduled, but Adjmi never signed or sent any of the written statements requested by Kenyon & Kenyon.
A representative for the Dramatists Guild, the trade association that represents playwrights, composers and lyricists, told Playbill.com, "the right of authors to make fair comment on pre-existing work (whether through parody or other forms of fair use) is a First Amendment safety valve in the copyright law, and one we wholeheartedly support, as do the courts. If the author contacts us, we will discuss the issue with him and see how we can help."
They also said help may be available to Adjmi via the Guild's newly-founded Dramatists Legal Defense Fund, a "non-profit charitable organization which seeks to protect the public's right to a robust public domain, by dealing with issues of censorship and copyright through education and advocacy."
Adjmi's also plight caught the ear of those within the theatre community, who cited the actions of DLT Entertainment as litigious bullying, stating that Adjmi's play fell under the umbrella of parody — which is protected under law. Other playwrights have explored similar territory, including Bert V. Royal's Dog Sees God, which centers on the teenage years of the Peanuts gang, as well as the popular Off-Broadway musical spoof Forbidden Broadway.
Tony Award-nominated Other Desert Cities playwright and "Brothers and Sisters" creator Jon Robin Baitz penned an open letter detailing why it was important that members of the theatre community rally behind Adjmi's work and artists' First Amendment rights, calling 3C "clearly and patently and unremittingly parody."
Rattlestick's marketing of the play never drew any direct links to 3C and "Three's Company," describing the play as being "inspired by 1970s sitcoms, 1950s existentialist comedy, Chekhov, and disco anthems," adding that it was a "terrifying yet amusing look at a culture that likes to amuse itself, even as it teeters on the brink of ruin."
"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," Baitz stated in his letter. "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."
Among the individuals to add their names in support are Stephen Sondheim, Tony Kushner, Lincoln Center Theatre artistic director Andre Bishop, Joe Mantello, Terrence McNally, Kenneth Lonergan, John Guare, Terry Kinney, Stephen Adley Guirgis and John Patrick Shanley.
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, piece by piece productions and Rising Phoenix Repertory, which produced the premiere, issued the following statement: "We cannot address the legal issue, but we can say that we believe in 3C — the play, cast, and crew — otherwise we would have never produced it. We always sought to keep the production going for its full, scheduled run. We were able to make that happen and the play received some wonderful reviews and played to sold-out houses. We love and believe in 3C and David's work and always will."
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